Campaign for real numbers update

I've had an outlook rule in place for a while to tell people about broken phone numbers, I thought I'd report back. The first thing I found was that colleagues who forward lots of mail threads soon tired of seeing the message, so I've filtered out anything which is a reply or forward.

The rule now goes

  • Apply this rule after the message arrives
  • with+44(0) or +44 (O) in the body
  • Unless RE: or FW: appears in the subject
  • have server reply using {specific message}

I've noticed several people changed their signatures. One person has told me they will set up a similar rule.  Another got in touch to say that if he didn't write in the broken format i.e. +44 (0), his signature would be 10 lines long. I think I convinced him of the point:

Not everyone or everything understands +44 (0) 118 909 3080, but anyone who does, also understands +44 118 909 3080.

Interestingly someone who works in Microsoft HR says she has been told she must write her phone number in that format. Sigh.

Some of Microsoft's own Global address list entries have broken numbers. Since we now have Outlook Voice Access, I can dial into the system from my car and say "Directory", the system will ask who I want to call, and if I say "Joe Blogs" it will call up Joe's information and I can say "Call the office", "Call the Mobile" or whatever numbers it has. If these are in the proper E.164 format +44 1234 56789 - no zero before the area code - then all is well: but if Joe (or who ever entered his phone number) was a numpty and wrote +44 (0) 1234 56789 instead. I can't call him. Perhaps I shouldn't be rude about people write their numbers in this way - I know two senior people in Microsoft UK who do.


Obviously as an early adopter of Voice access this bothers me, but today it got more important because I have dumped my desk-phone. I'm now on the pilot for Unified Communications. So have the new version of communicator running on my desktop and an "engineering sample" of a "Catalina" phone. Yipee! Call me King Sad of the Sad people but I'm actually excited. Mark Deakin has comprehensive summary of the devices for UC on his blog the Catalina is the phone which will come to market as the LG-Nortel UCT-100DSK and Polycomm CX200. Sound quality is quite nice at my end. I'm not quite sure what it sounds like at the other end.

The first two numbers I dialed were entered in a BROKEN FORMAT: One had the dreaded leading zero, in the GAL and the other had ;ext=1234 added to the end in communicators local address book... actually RFC 3966 says this is OK - I'd better file a communicator bug 🙂   

By the way if you follow RFC3966 and make your phone number a link in the form with a URL of TEL:+44-1234-56789 (n.b. there's no // in the URL) people who have a supported dialer (like communicator) can click to dial. Why don't I feel optimistic that we'll do that on our web pages any time soon.  ?

But if your future includes OCS Telephony, Outlook Voice Access, Windows Mobile Devices which can query the GAL, or Mobile devices where people read mail and make calls then

  1. Clean your GAL and work to keep it clean - which you won't do without 
  2. Educate users to write numbers in machine readable format.
  3. If you can get people to make phone numbers clickable, that's a bonus.

Bonus Link. Some good stuff about why this is NOT Rip and Replace at a newish site we have called VOIP as you are.


Comments (8)
  1. Anonymous says:

    The last person I punched was a schoolboy. Before you report me for child cruelty, I should point out

  2. Anonymous says:

    Peter sent me a mail last week suggesting a blog post. "You mentioned in

  3. James ONeill says:

    Dear Numpty.

    (1) Based on the numbers I see it’s about 5% of people who can’t write a number correctly.

    (2) True.

    (3) It affects every device and a lot of humans. Not just PCs, or Microsoft devices. Send a Nokia or Blackberry a +44 (0) 118 909 3080 they can’t call it. Store a number in E.164 format in *ANY* mobile’s phone book and you call it at home or while roaming.  Put the zero in you can’t call it anywhere.

    Americans put the area code in brackets, so any American seeing +44 (0) 118 etc will dial the zero. So you’re writing something to include the international code but in a way that foreigners can’t call you. That’s the behaviour of a numpty. (note the T).

    (4) I said that the fix was to programatically clean directories.

    (0) Is not a De facto standard, because most people in the world don’t understand it. Every person who *DOES* understand it also understands how to dial a correctly formatted number.

    On the other hand E.164 isn’t obscure because (a) Is built into about a billion cell phones.

    (b) It’s how every PBX works.

    (c) It’s how almost everybody in the world writes their numbers.

  4. Anonymous says:

    This week, I unplugged the telephone on my desk and put it on the other pile of stuff on my desk that

  5. James ONeill says:

    David. Watch this this space I’ll see what I can conjour up …

  6. Anonymous says:

    A draft post which ended up going on the spike referred to Lyn Truss’s book "Talk to the Hand: the utter

  7. David V says:


    I’m in the Small Business World, and we’re looking to toss our current VoIP system, as it’s not terribly good. While we’ve been getting quotes from Cisco and the like, I’ve been trying to get an idea what we can use OCS 2007 for. Googling turns up only news stories that dance around providing any concrete information about what OCS 2007 actually will do, and installing the system for a test drive has proved to be struggle, though I’m persisting.

    Could you point me in the direction of any real information about what OCS 2007 does, what its limits are, how it does it, and etc? A “Guide to interfacing OCS 2007 with Analog Phone Lines” would make me so happy I’d shine your shoes, but I’d take anything.



  8. N. Umpy says:

    So, let’s see if I understand this situation.

    1. Quite a lot of people write their phone numbers in the  +44 (0) format

    2. +44 (0) numbers aren’t "proper" E.164 numbers

    3. Outlook Voice Access (and perhaps other software) doesn’t work well with numbers written in the +44 (0) format

    4. Actually writing software to recognize such numbers is trivial, as evidenced by your mail rule.

    So, rather than make Outlook Voice Access "people ready", instead you think that people need to make themselves E.164-ready.  Instead of maybe ten minutes of programmer time writing code to recognize phone numbers as they exist in the real world, you want to waste hours of the collective time of all those "numpies", converting their phone numbers from a de facto standard format that everyone understands into a format that conforms to an obscure ITU recommendation.

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