TelID: Your phone number as Web address

A bad idea that's a great business: Phone numbers that point to Web sites.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read

Here's a terrible idea that's a fantastic business: TelID. What the company does is simple. It creates Web pages or redirects for phone numbers. If you register your number with the service, when users go to the Web address telid.com/[yournumber], they'll get redirected to your site, or to a single page that TelID will host for you.

The pitch, which I heard here at Launch Silicon Valley event, is this: you can print "Tel ID:" in front of your phone number on your business cards or in your phone book listing, and then anyone will be able to quickly find your site.

Why not just print your site address? That's why this is a terrible idea. Because that's what people should do: list their Web site, which is generally an easier-to-remember string of characters than a phone number, and which also does a better job of communicating brand.

Your phone number can be an URL. Sort of. TelID

But it's a great business, because the world isn't as smart as you and me, and TelID wholesales its service to phone book printers. They then sell the TelID redirects to their customers for $50 to $250 each a year. The phone book prints TelID numbers on a special shaded background, and puts a one-line instruction on the bottom of each page telling readers how to navigate to the TelID sites. (You can register your phone number directly on TelID.com, but then you won't get the shading in the book.)

In TelID's defense, making phone numbers into Web addresses does save ink in phone directories. And for people with long domain names, or who want potential customers to find their personal page that's buried deep in a corporate site, it's a useful shortcut they can give out.

But I still think it's backward, and there's no technological barrier to entry. It'd be easy to build a competitor to TelID.

It's also horrendously overpriced, and the fact that the company is making money from this nearly cost-free redirect service only illustrates how clueless its customers are. That rubs me the wrong way.

But I wish I had thought of it.