Why I’m not working on vCard validators

The vCard 3.0 validator is ten years old. The standard has moved on, Python has moved on, and I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two as a developer. But I’m not working on any vCard validators, and probably won’t be for the foreseeable future.

Maybe I’m suffering from second-system syndrome, but I’ve tried to reboot the project at least three times now. The Python code isn’t very elegant, fast or well tested. I set up skeletons in Java version and Rust, both excellent languages. I tried defining an ANTLR grammar. But I’ve got nothing to show for any of that. The main problem is motivation: vCard 3, 4 and jCard are incredibly out of date, to the point where writing a parser is equal parts painful and boring.

standards

And now, because the Internet needs more opinions (and standards): a human friendly address card format is possible. vCard/jCard is not it. When someone brave and tenacious enough to take this on comes around, I really hope they take at least the following into account:

  • Use a popular, existing serialization format. JSON won in this space. It’s not perfect, but it’s here to stay and it’s a good compromise between human and machine readable.
  • Don’t create another jCard. If you were developing the world’s first address card format, what would users and developers want to see?
  • Conversely, vCard did many things right. UTF-8, base64 and ISO dates are definitely good things.
  • All caps is hard to read. Don’t shout.
  • Don’t limit (or even recommend) a line length or line splitting scheme. Address cards shouldn’t be inlined into emails or documents any more than CSV files.
  • Dictionaries (as in associated key/value pairs) are useful. Use them.
  • Lists are useful. Use them.
  • Preferred name should probably be the only required name field.
  • Time zones are not UTC offsets. I do not live in time zone “+12:00”, because that offset changes twice per year. I live in time zone “Pacific/Auckland”. This can be the difference between being on time and wasting everybody’s time.
  • Allow linking to photos. Sure URLs are ephemeral, but so is basically everything in an address card.
  • Any property not in the standard should simply be ignored, as long as the entire document is still a valid instance of the serialization format.
  • Internationalization and localization are complex but important.

What will such a standard look like? Maybe something like this will be possible:

{
    "preferred name": "Jane Doe",
    "phone": {
        "cell": ["+99 9999-9999", "+11 0000 0000"],
        "home": "+99 9999-9999"
    },
    "URL": {
        "blog": "https://…",
        "work": ["https://example.org/", "https://example.com/"]
    },
    "photo": "https://…",
    "my custom property": "…",
    "time zone": "Pacific/Auckland"
}

UK technology fail

Since moving to the UK after living in Norway, France and Switzerland, it seems that this country, more than any other I know of in the Western world, is stuck in the 20th century. Here are some examples encountered in the last few months:

  • Many banks support no other authentication than usernames and passwords. No one-time pads, SMS codes, smart cards or client certificates, at least one of which was supported at all of my other banks. My bank forces you to enter your password at the counter, in front of other customers.
  • Don’t talk to me about Internet banking. Compared to every other bank I’ve used, my UK bank has by far the worst usability. If something fails, it doesn’t give any hint to what happened, and just sends you to the front page. Retrying means finding the same form again and filling in everything. It doesn’t play nicely with any online shops. It takes several days to add every single payment recipient. And its “company search” doesn’t find big UK companies.
  • Usually three or four buses arrive within two minutes, and then none for 20 minutes. Sometimes these clumps even have more than one of the same bus line.
  • Automated check-outs at supermarkets are sometimes OK: They take cards and cash, weigh your items properly, and calculate the sum properly when there’s a discount. However, none of them do all of these, and some of them seem to do none of them.
  • The phone only has a signal when the stars align just right. At home 1-2 bars, at work 0-1 bars.
  • The roads are too narrow for buses to pass, but there’s still parking on both sides.
  • I just ordered something online (via bank transfer since the card doesn’t work for some reason). The confirmation page showed the bank details. The confirmation email showed the final sum. Neither showed both.

Sometimes it’s so surprisingly backward that it’s amusing. Mostly I just wonder whether people care about service at all.