Two domain-based identity sites will be in the media this this week: Telnic's .tel, which launches at DemoFall, and Chi.mp, whose team will be holding court across the street from the TechCrunch50 conference in San Francisco on Monday and Tuesday (clever strategy, that). I think these two companies make a trend, but I'm not convinced it's a long-lived one.
The simple concept behind both companies is this: You'll get your own name in a domain, a .tel or .mp, and then use it as a hub for your online identities and content. The sites will offer some blend of a business card function, like Plaxo, and personal feed aggregaton, like Friendfeed. The pitch from both is similar: Instead of sending people to a page that's heavily branded by someone else (for example, Facebook), you can give out your domain. Keep that updated with your contact info, and then as long as people know your domain, they'll have a way to reach you.
I would not be surprised if both of these sites also became OpenID authenticators (Chi.mp already is). It's convenient for users. Chi.mp founder Tony Haile's vision for Chi.mp's utility is quite similar to the promise of OpenID and to the concepts in DiSo and the Social Graph API, emerging protocols for sharing social network data between sites.
Chi.mp is a free service.
The paid .tel product will allow its subscribers to control which networks their contacts reach them on, if I understand the preview info I saw correctly. Telnic also has a plan in place to allow people to claim their name -- a critical function, since there can be only one BobSmith.tel.
While I think the idea of using a top-level domain with a vanity URL as personal calling card is a gimmick -- unless there's only one TLD, which there clearly won't be -- the idea that every person can have a permanent location on the Net that's about who they are and not what they do does make some sense. And maybe we need that destitation to not be a social site like Facebook. Maybe it needs to be, basically, unsocial. My site, by me, for you -- under my control. Social site profiles do allow that, but they don't feel the same. But it's also quite possible that the subtle difference between appearing to own a site and owning a slice of another site isn't enough to sustain this new idea.
For my part, I bought rafeneedleman.com ages ago (I don't update it anymore). I'm also holding the .com domain names of my wife and son in reserve, just in case. These personal .coms don't t have the functionality of the services I discuss here but perhaps that points to a workable alternate business model: Provide contact and aggregation features that people like me can use from domains they already have.
See also: .name.