'What's your handle?' to replace 'What's your number?'

As use of mobile devices soars, Internet handles seen as easier way to make connections

Forget phone numbers and email addresses. The era of the Internet handle is emerging.

Instead of having to remember a phone number or an email address, in a few short years we might simply find somebody remotely over the Internet via his or her handle, another word for an Internet nickname.

It would be similar to the way handles are used in instant messaging or Skype, except that the handle would apply to all modes of getting in touch, including a phone number or email address (or several of each). In my case, my Skype handle, "MattaboyBoston," could become the way you would reach me.

"People will no longer seek each other's phone numbers or email address[es] when establishing personal or working relationships," wrote Gartner analyst Adib Ghubril in a report on mobile predictions for 2012 and beyond. "Instead, they will ask each other, 'What's your handle?' "

Ghubril said that handles will have a huge advantage. They could remain unchanged for a long time, if not for life.

However, to use the handle format, everyone will need a personal Web page that can be reached via a person's Internet handle. On that Web page, the user would store personal phone numbers and email addresses and keep them up to date. All of those phone numbers and addresses would be unseen by outsiders who would have the user's handle stored in their own contacts directory, Ghubril said.

For businesses, a contact manager application could be designed for a workplace or organization. These apps would manage a directory of Internet handles that would read Web-based or cloud-based information about the one being contacted. It would also provide rules for communications (such as not calling at certain times).

Application developers would need to build new contact manager apps to allow directories in smartphones and tablets to synchronize with remote social networking sites to allow the broader exchange of Internet handles, Ghubril said.

Ghubril said the emergence of Internet handles is "not that far off." He predicted that by 2016, 20% of cell phone numbers will be displaced by Internet handles. His prediction is fueled by the fact that smartphones and other wireless devices are exploding in use, with a greater dependency on messaging and applications such as video chat than on traditional voice communications.

Ghubril said social networks are already making Internet handles more of a necessity, since users already go to networks such as LinkedIn to find other people's photos and contact information. "What I see [the handles connecting to] is a kind of LinkedIn connected with video chat," he said.

The notion of everyone having a handle could create opportunities for branding experts to develop into "persona consultants," who will help professionals pick appropriate handles, he said.

"It could be my brand with my name, so I could be Adibarooni or Adibanalyzethis," he said. "If I'm into soccer, it might be Adibstriker."

The value of a handle could become so important in coming years that parents might consider adding the handle to a child's birth certificate, he said.

Ghubril's forecast for Internet handles was one of a number of mobile and wireless forecasts that various analysts have made to prepare for 2012 and beyond.

Other Gartner predictions included:

  • By 2016, at least half of enterprise email users will rely mainly on a browser, tablet or mobile client for email access, instead of a desktop client.
  • By 2015, mobile application development projects designed for smartphones and tablets will outnumber native PC projects by a ratio of 4-to-1. Today they are on par with each other.
  • By 2013, 35% of smartphone wireless data traffic will run over Wi-Fi in private and public locations.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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