Reaching out and touching someone used to be as simple as dialing a string of numbers. But now there are home, cell and work phone numbers from which to choose, and sometimes work extensions to remember.
There are also e-mail addresses — at home and at work — and instant messaging handles, perhaps separate ones for the various services, some of which now do voice and video besides text. Some people even have Web pages — through their employer or Internet service provider, or perhaps a profile or two on MySpace.
To help people manage all their contact information online, the Internet's key oversight agency is considering a ".tel" domain name. If approved, the domain could be available this year.
As proposed, individuals could use a ".tel" Web site to provide the latest contact information and perhaps even let friends initiate a call or send a text message directly from the site. Businesses could use a ".tel" site to determine customers' locations and route them automatically to the correct call center.
Its proponents also envision ".tel" as a place from which the various people-finding services on the Internet could pull the latest contact information as individuals move about. Now, data typically come from third-party sources like phone listings, which may be old or incomplete, particularly if an entire household is listed under one name.
And telephony applications and devices yet to be built could one day make use of such data, especially as wireless and wireline networks converge, according to London-based Telnic Ltd., which proposed and would run the domain if it is approved.
There's nothing inherent in ".tel" that would enable these features; rather, its aim is to create a place to which people would know to go to find contact information.
Todd Masonis, a co-founder of contact management service Plaxo Inc., is familiar with the hassles of keeping track of everyone.
His parents have had the same house and phone number for some 30 years, and "for a long time that was how they are identified," Masonis said. "But in the last two years, even they have had a couple of cell phones, a couple of e-mail addresses and Web pages and instant message IDs."
Still, he questions the need for ".tel" when companies like his already use ".com" to host services that help manage contacts. He worries that a ".tel" name would create yet another identifier for people to remember, without doing away with the others.
The board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers plans to review the proposal Tuesday, although it may wait until next month or later to decide.
Telnic officials likened ".tel" to the creation of domain names decades ago as an easier-to-remember alternative to the series of numbers behind every Internet-connected computer. Instead of memorizing a friend's phone numbers, they say, just remember the ".tel" address.
But Telnic was vague on how all this would work, saying it is merely enabling developers to come up with innovative ways to use ".tel."
Nor did the company say in its application how much a ".tel" name would cost. A spokesman said Friday that officials were unavailable because of the Easter holiday.
Telnic was one of two applicants for ".tel" when ICANN sought bids in 2004 for new domain names. John Jeffrey, ICANN's general counsel, said the other ".tel" applicant had failed to correct deficiencies identified by an independent review panel. But that applicant, Internet telephony pioneer Jeff Pulver, blamed politics for the rejection.
In recent years, ICANN has approved ".eu" for the European Union, ".jobs" for human-resources sites, ".travel" for the travel industry, ".mobi" targeting mobile services and ".cat" for the Catalan language, bringing the number of domains to 264.
The organization also is in negotiations to create ".xxx" for porn sites, ".asia" for the Asia-Pacific community and ".post" for postal services.
The few who submitted comments to ICANN on ".tel" were skeptical.
Francisco Cabanas, owner of Canadian domain registration company FineE.com, said an organization like The Associated Press could simply create an address at "tel.ap.org," rather than require an "ap.tel."
Otherwise, who would get the ".tel" name? The AP? Internet service provider AccessPort, which uses "ap.net"? Or Audio Precision Inc., at "ap.com"?
"It kind of magnifies the problem," Cabanas said. "If I'm looking for a phone number or an e-mail address or whatever and I'm getting a totally different (company), it defeats the purpose."
Also unclear is what the demand would be like, giving the popularity of ".com."
The seven domains approved in 2000 — including ".aero," ".museum," and ".info" — "just never have caught on," said Dan Tobias, a Boca Raton, Fla., computer programmer who runs a site on domain names. "Nobody's figured out how to educate the public enough to seek out a different ... domain."