Saturday, August 15, 2009

At the cusp of contact info convergence

We're finally getting there: convergence of social networks, users worried about losing their social connections, and innovators looking to provide a proper continuity and contact info stability.

Let's look at what has just happened, and feel the uncertainty in the communications market:
Facebook acquires Friendfeed. Yet another communications channel has emerged and been subsumed. Scoble believes that Friendfeed is dead and is (rightly) worried about what will happen about his Friendfeed social graph. the URL shortener has been shuttered and resuscitated after its community showed its support. URL shorteners started as transient solutions but are now an integral part of the persistent Internet content. (Note that I'm not saying "Web content" because there's a lot of content not just on the Web)

There's too much excitement with flashy technologies and not enough focus on some cold hard truths; flashes are in the pan. Facebook has 250 million users yes, but it's not the world's biggest social network; Skype is, with over 450 million registered users, and a very very healthy cash flow - they've monetized it. But not everyone wants to be on Facebook (and the kids are leaving because their parents are on it and it's 'boring'!) nor does everyone want to be in the other proprietary place that is Skype.

So, what do users want? It's simple: they want people to be able to know, at any time, where and how to find them. Essentially: easy discovery of the user's current communication channels.

There needs to be some kind of universal identifier that people can choose to have that allows them to swap in and out different services as they come and go, and big business is flailing around to find and own it. But it does exist already: .tel

There are other solutions being developed of course:
Open Trust Networks are being potentially mooted as the way to go to base ID systems on, but they have to be vendor-independent in order to provide that level of trust for the individual. Ideally, they need to be run as a distributed system rather than a centralized one. That's where the ownership of a domain by an individual which stores information in the DNS works.

Dave Winer is absolutely correct when he states that trading one centralized system for another is no good: it's inherently insecure, provides a bottleneck and a target, and ultimately doesn't give the user his freedom. However, using the DNS enables the load to be spread in a time-proven manner. His idea moves on to give a user a unique URL, but if it is reliant on a centralized system to serve it, the person still doesn't have control over their data and the service provided. If however one uses the DNS as the main entry point, it gives ultimate control to the owner of the DNS zone, i.e. the domain owner.

There's also the new Google Webfinger concept that misses the point completely. What does it ultimately try to do? Provide contact info for a person given an identifier. Well, first of all, revealing an email address as an identifier is people's worst nightmare. Second, it's horribly complicated for no reason whatsoever:
With an email address, you somehow determine how to hit the DNS, which then tells you where to find the XRD file that, once downloaded and parsed, gives you the contact data.
Why not simply finally accept the fact that the best identifier that can ever be defined is a domain name? If you want to get my contact data, simply hit the DNS for, the contact data is all there. Here's how my DNS contact info looks like. And if you believe that an XRD file can provide more complex data structures than what the DNS records can, put a link to the XRD file directly in the domain itself.
The only reason to start with anything not a domain is to avoid paying the domain ownership fee. But then you lose your freedom. About $1/month is the price of freedom.
Also note that you can do this with any domain, not just .tel. A .tel domain simply has a guaranteed structure that makes all this very simple, and it also gives you the management tools, APIs and privacy for free.

Domains are good. Domains can be purchased. Domains can be owned. Domains can be used to point to anything of importance to the domain owner. Read up on what you can do with the DNS, you'd be surprised.

1 comment:

Edwin said...

Hear, hear! I fully agree with you, Rik. .tel offers great possibilities and deserves a warm welcome by all members of the developers community, even if they wish they were the inventors of .tel themselves.
Edwin van Rooyen