I've come to understand them a bit better since that first brush with them. Last year, I attended a workshop on XRI and XDI. And, of course, i-names keep popping up at our IIW events. For most purposes, you can think of an i-name in an XRI the same way you view a domain name (like www.windley.com) in a URI.
Lately I've started to feel like i-names and XRIs are coming into their own. Not long ago, for example, my i-name registry, 2idi, started offering XRI forwarding services. That means that I can create XRIs from my i-name that resolve to other things on the 'Net. For example:
- http://xri.net/=windley/(+index) forwards to my "index" page on the Web.
- http://xri.net/=windley/(+contact) is my contact page
- http://xri.net/=windley/(+blog) resolves to my blog
- http://xri.net/=windley/(+call) points to me on Skype (i.e. Firefox will launch a call to me through Skype if you click on this.)
- http://xri.net/=windley/(+feed) forwards to my RSS feed
- http://xri.net/=windley/(+photos) points to my online photo collection
What's the point? Easy: I own =windley, my i-name, for the next 50 years and I control the resolution. If my blog URL or my Skype handle changes, I can change how those XRIs resolve and you can still find me and all the service related to me. Plus, the XRIs above are (mostly) based on a standard semantics, so if I know your i-name, I can easily find your blog.
Further, i-names are not reassignable* (unlike domain names), so when you contact the person at =windley, you know it's me, not just the next guy to pick up the name when I let it expire.
XRIs are more complicated than URLs, but I remember everyone screwing up their face when URLs were new too and somehow we got used to them. XRIs make up for their additional complexity in semantic mappings and flexibility.
The biggest impediment to the uptake of XRIs seems to be the fact that Firefox and other browsers don't resolve them natively. You'll notice that I used an XRI-URL bridge (xri.net) in the examples above rather than writing xri://=windley/(+contact). Drummond Reed, the force behind XRIs, tells me that this could change in the near term. In the meantime, there is a Firefox extension by William Tan called FoXRI that adds XRI resolution to Firefix for experimental purposes.
I'm hoping that XRI resolution shows up soon in Firefox and other browsers. XRIs, particularly i-names, represent a significant technology in user-centric identity. Their permanence gives an important advantage for people building their identity on the 'Net.
*Update: I was mistaken when I said i-names are not reassignable. Actually, it's i-numbers that aren't reassignable. Even so, the persistence issue is important. For a deeper explanation of i-names and i-numbers and their relationship, see this article by Drummond Reed.