Rick van Rein

vr 30 december 2016


Identity 9: Phone Numbers are User Identities

Although the InternetWide Architecture is building structures to support advanced modern-day users now and in the far future, the properties of personal control over online identity can start really modest, with a simple phone number.

I am not a Number... I am a Real Man!

Identities do not always look like email addresses, even though these are the simplest form on the Internet. Other identities could be ISBN numbers, EAN and other barcodes, and of course, phone numbers.

We hereby present how phone numbers can be interpreted under the InternetWide Architecture as a form of identity, thereby helping their owners bootstrap a simple form of online presence that they are likely to expand to a point where they desire to have their own domain name.

Still, phone numbers can provide an ideal first step on the online scene. A few technologies are highly attractive to bring together:

  • ENUM is a representation of phone numbers in DNS, where it looks like a (funny sort of) domain name. A number like +12345 would look like in terms of DNS, so let's try to never type that!
  • XMPP is the standardised chat technology that has also been pulled in by Google, Facebook and WhatsApp. There is no reason however, to keep chat constrained to isolated islands, and indeed, people who run their own chat service connect all over the World. Would be nice to do that with a phone number too, right?
  • MMS can be easily submitted (at data transfer cost only) to your XMPP infrastructure.
  • Having the Object Store from the IdentityHub under your phone number can help you share photos, videos and so on. Yes, your phone number has just been redefined as a personal cloud store!
  • Having the ability to construct groups and other users under your phone number means that you can setup chat groups that you can share with your friends.

In fact, there is a lot more possible. It all starts with this one identity that gets you going.

Phone Numbers are like Domain Names

As shown, a phone number is transformed into a silly-looking DNS name. You will not want to type that continually, but it really is not much to show that in a nicer way to you in the domain management interface of the IdentityHub. So you can just add your phone number instead of a domain name. All you need to know is to use the + notation, whose first digits are the country code. For example, a Dutch mobile phone number would start with +316. There is no restriction in adding landline numbers as well, by the way.

Aside from being usable as a normal domain name, you can also add a few special things that announce services; for example, a reference can be made from the domain to the XMPP chat server, an SMS and MMS redirection record may be added (servicing those who understand where to find it, so basically other online users like you). And there is room for much more -- including even a so-called directory server, which you can use as a reverse phone book.

Phone Numbers are like User Names

We will take the habit of defining the phone number (after stripping the leading + symbol) as a user name as well. So, if your phone number is +12345 then your identity looks like 12345@ -- a bit silly. Once again, that's just cosmetics. You are free to use other user names, but might then confuse people, so you probably shouldn't.

Adding Services

You can also add other phone numbers as local aliases of their own phone numbers in the same silly format; this would mean that your friends could use your domain, and your online services, as long as they come from their funny-phone domain.

With multiple users, it is now becoming interesting to form groups. And you guessed it, these groups can now start to setup conference discussions.

The technology can be used for much more. If you choose a smart-enough client on your phone, you may be able to make voice calls and perhaps even video calls. And yes, there are a few conferencing facilities that you will probably be able to plug into your phone-number domain in a later stage of our project. Most of the technology relies on clever client Apps and fairly simplistic servers, so you should get your hopes up!

You are Free

Perhaps most importantly, XMPP technology will set you free. You are no longer confined to the locked-down services of the few large players. You can connect to people who never locked themselves into these silo chat services, but who use their email address for chat. And yes, you can talk with them too.

Welcome in the free world!

Image credit: Harry van Rein, a retired telecoms engineer who still keeps this phone operational.

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