Friday, February 27, 2009

More SEO/SEM comments

Christian Maund-Anderson posted in his SEO blog an entry titled Don't Tell Dot Tel. In it, he posits that ".tel is about linkspam". From the viewpoint of a web SEO/SEM person, I can understand his reasoning, but I hope to explain in this post that .tel cannot, should not and will not be viewed as a top level link farm.

First, an explanation of what link farming is. From wikipedia's entry on spamdexing:
(link farms) Involves creating tightly-knit communities of pages referencing each other, also known humorously as mutual admiration societies.

In a more general sense, link spam refers to linking pages for purposes other than semantic value, i.e. linking for the sake of linking because, for certain tools and services, the presence of a link is a Big Deal. Since Google first came out with the idea that links are more important than content for ranking results, everyone has started looking at links in a new light.

So, what does it mean for .tel? Well, nothing.

.tel is a publicly accessible distributed database of contact information, where each "node" of the database is owned by different people. This database is very structured, and allows each node owner to primarily store contact information, descriptive keywords and location (longitude/latitude). In addition, each contact info field in the database can also be encrypted using 1024-bit PKI.

This is it. The only relevance to link spam (and thus the confusion in the above-mentioned article) is a combination of two factors: first, one can enter a web url as a contact field, just like a phone number or an instant messaging handle. And second, Telnic has put together a service that allows the database to be viewable from the web.

So reviewing the above-mentioned article, the first point is that Telnic (not the TLD) does not have complete control over DNS. This is a fallacy. When you own a domain, you can have it served by whatever DNS server you want as long as the zone passes validation as an acceptable .tel zone. .tel uses the DNS as the distributed database infrastructure, so the rules are slightly different. You can't add A or CNAME records, but those are only rules, not control. It's similar to saying that a web page must have a starting and ending html tag.

Mr Maund-Anderson looked at the web interface to a .tel and determined that "The .tel pages are awash in links, links to websites, phones, social media." Well, no. There are no ".tel pages" per se. What he saw was a proxy server that queried .tel DNS information and displayed it to the web browser in a standardized way. He could have opened a shell on his computer and queried the DNS directly, and seen the raw data without using a browser. Or he could have loaded up any one of the available applications that query the DNS .tel zones directly, and gotten that info.

So the real question that is asked here is:

Will the search engines be gamed by .tel?

You'd have to be a very stupid search engine to be fooled by .tel: you're 100% guaranteed to know it's a .tel domain, and so you can decide, as a search engine developer, what value you'd like to assign to any information in the .tel, be it a web url or an email address. And instead of getting your bot to parse the web interface, get the perfectly structured raw data directly from the DNS distributed database. Querying the DNS is a piece of cake.
There's no point in Telnic adding a nofollow to the web interface to the database, in fact we should discourage search engines from using the web interface and instead query the data at the source. It's better, faster, cleaner, more distributed, and much less prone to mistakes.

I'd like to look at the problem Mr. Maund-Anderson raises and turn it on its head: with my .tel, I can finally tell the search engines what is relevant to a search regarding me. Let search engines use my .tel as a trusted source for info about me, if I make my WHOIS info public (and therefore they'll know I own my domain). My "profile" is not in crunchbase (, I've never given any of my info to these people and I never bothered checking their info. I'm not even linking it here because I don't want Google to think I'm giving it any value. If you do a search for my name in Google, you will find my .tel at the top, but the crunchbase url is somewhere in the first page as well, and I'd like that to go away. It's nowhere near as interesting as my twitter or facebook profiles, which I am linking from my .tel.

The next question is of course what will happen when .tel is adopted by the masses and gaming begins (as it always does, in any market). Well, in order to game a search for me, someone would have to effectively attempt to confuse readers and impersonate me with another .tel, and I will have legal recourse. There's a trusted paper trail in the WHOIS data. It's not perfect, but it's head and shoulders above what's currently available to fight impersonation.
There'll probably be a lot more gaming done, but I'm quite confident that search engines will be able to handle that at least as well as they currently are doing with web page that are infinitely more complicated.

No cookie-cutter layout

.tel has many "layouts". I've personally written half a dozen already, for different devices, and even embedded my .tel info in web pages on .com domains. The only cookie-cutter layout is again the standard web interface to the distributed database, and that's on purpose. The last thing people want is another round of parking pages, Google sponsored links and other flash and popup ads. When people put a .tel address in a browser, they'll know what to expect, every time: A set of contact info, keywords and possibly a location record.

The other .tel question
Next, the article states that "I don’t want to go to a page to get my contact’s information. This seems counter intuitive."
Well, where do you want to go? To your address book that's probably obsolete and doesn't have a tenth of the ways to contact me? Why not have a dynamic, always-accessible, global address book? The web "page", once again, is just a convenience for those who don't have another way of querying that address book. As an example, download the latest 2.1 beta of the Kiax soft phone, and enter "" in the dial field. Easier to remember than a phone number, and with a lot more features. Of course you can still use and store in your address book the phone number, but know that this is static information that will certainly become obsolete some day.


Thursday, February 26, 2009


I just found out that somebody coined the word Telsters. I like it!
And true to the spirit of the Internet, someone created a website to go along with it, and that website is a blog that is more fun and in many ways better than mine:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Facebook privacy conundrum

Facebook just backed down and reverted to its old privacy policy, after the massive backlash started by privacy advocates. The interesting thing is Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg comments on the official Facebook blog (and he's got a followup post stating the return to the old terms).

In the first post, something struck a friend of mine familiar with the .tel, and she emailed me about it. Zuckerberg wrote:

People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them—like email addresses, phone numbers, photos and so on—to other services and grant those services access to those people's information. These two positions are at odds with each other. There is no system today that enables me to share my email address with you and then simultaneously lets me control who you share it with and also lets you control what services you share it with.

Well that's one of the unique problems .tel can solve. Imagine that I give you as my central point of contact. You want to send me an email. You fire up your mail client and type in the "To:" field "". The mail client understands that this is a .tel and automatically looks up my associated email address(es), including the private one given just to you. You choose the one you want (or it's automatically chosen), and the mail is sent.

What I've done here is give you the ability to contact me via email. However, what I've also done is give you a dynamically allocated email address. If at some point I see that this email of mine has been abused (such as given to people who are spamming me), I can simply change email addresses on my .tel.

What happens then? Well, you can still email me in the same way. Nothing's changed for you. However, the spammer now has an email address that doesn't work any more. If he goes to my .tel to find my new email, he can't because it's private.

So .tel is indeed the system that enables me to share my email address with you and ultimately control the propagation of my email addresses. I can't control who and what services you share it with, but I can stop the sharing when I want. And those who have the power to stop something control it.

Mr Zuckerberg, it may be time for you to sell .tel domains to Facebook users concerned about real privacy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

.tel delegation policy: what it means

The .tel AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) specifies a certain number of rules regarding subdomain delegation. I'd like here to explain the philosophy behind them. Delegation fundamentally mean a transfer of rights. In .tel, when you buy the domain, you have rights to this domain, as well as responsibilities to abide by the Telnic AUP. You are allowed to sub-delegate the responsibility for updating sub-folders in some cases such as to people in your own company or your own family. So for example, should you want to sub-delegate mary. and transfer the rights and responsibilities to Mary Smith who may be your wife, then you can only do so consistently with the AUP's policy on sub-delegations:

The registration and/or use of the Extended Name is free of charge to and is only for the use of subsidiaries, business units or employees of the company or members of the association that is the Domain Name Holder, and is not offered as a service to third parties, or, where the Domain Name Holder is a natural person, the Extended Name is only for the personal use of the Domain Name Holder or the family of the Domain Name Holder, is not offered as a service to third parties, and no fee or other compensation is charged in connection with such sub-delegation.

So you are not allowed to provide either paid for or free sub-delegation to people or businesses outside of those parties covered by the AUP (existing businesses or close family members).

What about for-pay directory services?

You are fully allowed to provide a paying directory service as long as you retain the rights and responsibilities of the domain and do not sub-delegate.

Providing a "concierge service" to update contact information is acceptable within the AUP, whether automated through do-it-yourself front-ends, or manual. However, it is assumed that the data published by you is covered by the normal and regional rules and laws for data protection, and you must have the informed consent of the owners of that data (which, as a for-pay service, is the case) unless the data is already freely available from other sources. This would be a legitimate information service that would not be in breach of the AUP.

What about links to other .tel domains?

Separately, a Non-Terminal NAPTR (NTN, i.e. a .tel link) is a pointer to another (sub)domain, and not a record in itself, which means that it simply points to an external domain over which you have no control, and the responsibility belongs to the owner of that .tel domain. That's the same as having links on a webpage of yours that send the user to another website.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Backing up your .tel information

So you spent days, weeks, even months thinking about, setting up, updating and tweaking your .tel. And you're worried about what would happen if your Telhosting provider went down with all your hard work, because of an act of God such as a systems administrator having had too much to drink on the job and having pressed the wrong keys.

Fear Not, my gentle reader. For the Telhosting required API contains an export function that will get you all your data (including non-live data that is disabled because it's not in the active profile) onto your computer. And of course, there's an import function that does the opposite.

These two functions are requirements for any accredited Telhosting provider, so you can be sure they'll exist whatever provider you use. Just make sure you actually back up your data before that systems administrator hits the Crown Royal.

PS: none of our sysadmins drink on the job.

Edit: Below are the links to the relevant API functions, with full description and usage
ExportData to backup all your data.
ImportData to restore that data into a Telhosting provider's system.