What’s in an i-name?

The project that I’ve been working for almost a year at NeuStar is very much centered around a marketing term “i-name”. Many have pretended to be interested so I shall attempt to explain it 1.

But before I go on to answer the poetic question, let me first explain what an i-name is.

An i-name is a name. It’s a handle that people can associate you with. Other than the fact that you can write it down on a piece of paper or print it on a business card, it pretty much exists only online.

You are probably well aware of other types of online handles such as domain names, email addresses and login names, AOL screen names, etc. Well, this could potentially be all of them.

Unlike a domain name, an i-name is not restricted to storing a set of strange bytes (resource records, to be exact.)

Unlike an email address, an i-name is not restricted to sending and receiving e-mails.

Unlike AOL screen name, Skype username, eBay username, and a gazillion other login names… an i-name is not tied to a single web site or application.

An i-name is not here to replace all of them though. It’s used for finding them! If you have an i-name, you can store all sorts of information about yourself in it. The more savvy reader will tell me that so can a URL. The difference is – and this is an important point – an i-name is a standard way of finding out information about you, and that information is presented in a way that a computer (program) can understand. Now, that’s a serious breach of privacy you say. Well, it turns out that there are robust mechanisms built around related technologies that allows you to control who gets to see which pieces of information. I’ll leave that for another day.

On to the meat of the question – what’s in an i-name?

Let’s take my almighty i-name =wil:

The equal sign (=) denotes that I’m an individual. There is one other type of i-name that is relevant to most people, an organization, represented by the commercial at sign (@). The company that I work for has an i-name @NeuStar.

The rest is just a name that you pick for yourself. Other than the fact that you can’t have spaces and punctuations other than period (.) and hyphen (-), pretty much anything goes.

By now, you’re probably burning with questions. The first of which I will answer “What can I do with an i-name?”

At the present, there are 3 services: contact, forwarding, and single sign-on.

The contact service is like a secretary who screens your caller, takes down the message and forward to you.

The forwarding service allows you to create links to web addresses that are either too complicated or may change in the future.

The single sign-on service allows you to use your i-name to log in to any web site or service that supports it. Once (hence the word “single”).

Excited? Want an i-name of your own? Register one at one of the providers listed here.

How to use an i-name?

Programs that support i-names are being brewed as we speak. Many applications already exist, but are not generally meant for the public. However, to start using your i-name today, just prefix it with http://xri.net/ (try http://xri.net/=wil) and use it like any web link!

1 People who asked were genuinely interested at first and I would earnestly explain by starting with: “Well, it’s really XRI, which is a higher level of abstraction over IRI and URI… and is somewhere between the functionality of URI and URN…” By the time the first TLA “XRI” comes along, I notice a raised eyebrow. Then comes the IRI and URI, and before URN appeared I would’ve completely lost my audience. So, this is my attempt at putting it in plain English, for the lay person. Let me know how I fared.

Disclaimer: The contents and postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent NeuStar’s position.

8 Responses to “What’s in an i-name?”

  1. http://cmilono.pip.v Says:

    Very good description of this space. I, too, lost several friends to TLAs, and now realize that to speak the truth, sometimes…you have to say things that aren't as exact as you'd like.

  2. JEDI » Blog Archive » links for 2007-05-23 Says:

    […] dready blog v2.0 » Blog Archive » What’s in an i-name? (tags: i-name iname xri) […]

  3. Matt Says:

    Thanks for the nice post about what an i-name actually is and how it can be used. It would be cool if you explained how an i-name is different from a regular OpenID.

  4. =yehuda Says:

    Just saw your post, and thought I’d get myself a nice and short i-name, while they last. Hope to see this standard expanding quickly.

  5. dready blog v2.0 » Blog Archive » FoXRI Updated for Firefox 3 Says:

    […] by Emanuel in a comment to my post on i-names, I’ve finally tended to the long-overdue item in my TODO queue, i.e. update FoXRI to work […]

  6. Emanuel Says:

    Do you plan to update your FoXRI extension for Firefox 3?

  7. wil Says:

    It's in a fairly low-priority queue right now, and I apologize for that.

    That said, the code is on http://foxri.sourceforge.net/ and I would very much welcome any patches 😉

  8. wil Says:

    Update: Thanks to Emanuel, I've mustered up enough energy to update it to work with Firefox 3.0.*

    Also integrated patches from Michael Krelin submitted 7 months ago (here: http://git.klever.net/view/cgit/patchwork/foxri.g