Portable Contacts and vCardDAV
San Francisco, CA
March 25, 2009

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You may remember the venerable IETF standards-body from such foundational internet RFCs as HTTP (aka the web), SMTP (aka e-mail), and vCard (aka contact info). So I’ll be honest that I was a bit intimidated when they invited me to their IETF-wide conference to speak about my work on Portable Contacts.

In addition to being chartered with updating vCard itself, the IETF has a working group building a read-write standard for sharing address book data called CardDAV. (It’s a set of extensions to WebDAV for contact info, hence the name.) Since Portable Contacts is also trying to create a standard for accessing contact into online (albeit with a less ambitious scope and feature set), I was eager to share the design decisions we had made and the promising early adoption we’ve already seen.

My optimistic hope was that perhaps some of our insights might end up influencing the direction of CardDAV–or perhaps even vCard itself. But I was also a bit nervous that such an august and rigorous standards body might have little interest in the pontifications of a “scrappy Open Stack hacker” like me. Or that even if they liked what I said, it might be impossible to have an impact this late in the game. But I figured if nothing else, here’s a group of people that are as passionate about the gory details of contact info as we are, so at least we should meet one another and see where it leads.

Boy was I impressed and inspired by their positive reception of my remarks! Far from being a hostile or dis-interested audience, everyone seemed genuinely excited by the work we’d done, especially since companies large and small are already shipping compliant implementations. The Q&A was passionate and detailed, and it spilled out into the hallway and continued long after the session officially ended.

Best of all, I then got to sit down with Simon Perreault, one of the primary authors of vCard 4.0 and vCardXML, and we went literally line-by-line through the entire Portable Contacts spec and wrote a list of all the ways if differs from the next proposed version of vCard. As you might imagine, there were some passionate arguments on both sides concerning the details, but actually there were really no “deal breakers” in there, and Simon sounded quite open (or even excited) about some of the “innovations” we’d made. It really does look like we might be able to get a common XML schema across PoCo and vCard / CardDAV, and some of the changes might well land in core vCard!

Of course, any official spec changes will happen through the normal IETF mailing lists and process. But as I’m sure you can tell, I think things went amazingly well today, and the future of standards for sharing contact info online has never looked brighter! Thanks again to Marc Blanchet, Cyrus Daboo, and the rest of the vCardDAV working group for their invitation and warm reception. Onward ho!

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