E-mail without @ sign proposed

Florence-based Internet company DADA (Design Architettura Digitale Analogico) has proposed the creation of a personal identification domain for registering individuals, enabling them to be contacted regardless of what communications device they are using at the time, company officials said.

The system would replace Internet addresses based around the @ sign with addresses made up of a person's first and second names followed by the suffix .pid. Mario Rossi, for example, a common name in Italy, could therefore register his address as www.mario.rossi.pid, a move that would enable him to receive messages on all his devices -- PC, mobile phone or fax -- DADA said.

"It's a sophisticated technology based on relational databases," Alessandro Sordi, DADA's chief executive officer, said in a telephone interview. "It combines fixed and mobile telephony, Web pages and e-mail. People will be contactable automatically at any moment and on any peripheral device."

ICANN is expected to approve the first two of 45 TLD proposals by the end of the year, Sordi said. "The proposals will be discussed at the ICANN conference in California this week, but the uncertainty over the US presidential elections has thrown the decision-making process somewhat into crisis," he added.

Even if DADA's proposal is not one of the first two to be chosen, the company hopes it will figure among the 10 projects expected to be approved over the course of the next year, Sordi said. "We are a small company and our competitors are some of the biggest multinationals in the world. We are looking for partners and are interested in the possibility of forming a consortium," he added.

DADA generated revenue of 21.1 billion lire (around $17.4 million) in the first nine months of 2000 from services that include domain name registration, the provision of Internet service, online advertising and electronic commerce, the company said. DADA is one of only two authorised registrars in Europe for .net, .org and .com Internet domains, Sordi said. The company has around 250 employees, according to the DADA CEO, although ICANN's online summary of its proposal only credits it with five staff.

One of the main shortcomings of the DADA proposal, Sordi acknowledges, is its inability to satisfy the possessors of common names. The Mario Rossis and John Smiths of this world will have to distinguish themselves from the first person in the registration queue by using numbers or nicknames, he said. "This is the real limitation of the system and we are working to try and find a solution," he added.

The DADA system is intended for real names, rather than the pseudonyms and aliases of online privacy lovers, Sordi said. "The fundamental problem is that .com is full now and vertical domains like .bank or .museum don't resolve the identification needs of the world's 20 million Internet navigators," he said.

"The market is defined as those with Internet access and mobile phone subscribers; essentially mobile people who have multiple points of contact such as phone, fax, pager, mobile phone, e-mail and Web pages," ICANN's online summary of the DADA proposal says. "The initial target market is the 655 million current mobile phone customers."

ICANN's analysis of the proposal criticises DADA for inadequate attention to fault tolerance and security. "The proposers do not provide fault tolerance for anything beyond failures of machines and software in their own single facility," ICANN observed. "There are risks that the service will be interrupted, suffer poor performance, offer highly variable performance to different users in different locations, and perhaps entirely lose its database of name/registrar mappings in case of a catastrophe."

ICANN faulted DADA on security for proposing the authentication of registrars to the registry service by passwords without discussing "the known shortcomings of passwords." DADA is currently working to respond to ICANN's criticisms, Sordi said. "Our entire project was about 300 pages long and we will now send another 300 pages dealing with the security issue," he added.

ICANN does however credit DADA with having produced an interesting idea, despite the practical limitations of the proposal. "The proposed TLD and its uses could significantly change the way people use the Internet to communicate to each other," the Internet administrator said.

DADA believes the .pid domain will open a new market worth around $US600 million and the registrar would have 60 per cent of that revenue, Sordi said. "That's an enormous amount of money. In fact we don't expect to win. That would be too good to be true," he added.

Italians have laid claim to be the originators of the @ symbol -- a Rome academic says he has traced the first known use of the sign to a script used by Florentine merchants in the 16th century -- so it is perhaps appropriate that modern Florentine businessmen should be bidding to push it from its present pre-eminence on Internet signposts.

DADA can be found on the Web at http://www.dada.it/.

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