Future-Proofing Contact Information

By Deane Barker on January 26, 2004

How do you future-proof contact information? It strikes me that, through the years, I migrate from one messaging platform to another, but I’m generally contacting the same people. My Mom is going to be my Mom no matter what email client I’m using. Probably true for my wife, too.

So, when I switch from Outlook to Outlook Express to Mozilla Mail to Thunderbird, I’m having to export and import all my contact information every time, hope I don’t lose anything in translation, and hope that it stays constant even when subject to the quirks and vagaries of each platform.

Should there be a XML schema for archiving contact information, so that it’s always the same? So I could just put people in this XML file, then import to various platforms as I switched (or, if they don’t support the schema, do an XSL transform to something they do support)? So this XML file would be the one, true source for information about the people I know.

(Even taking out the XML angle, is it worthwhile to abstract your contact information away from a particular client? Regardless of what you store it in, is it just good practice to keep it in a vendor-neutral, highly-exportable format rather than a proprietary app?)

It concerns me that, as I wander through various software, I don’t have a “home base” for all my contact information; a format that my mother’s contact information can live in from here to eternity. Is this the point where the mother of invention requires that I invent the schema?



  1. Actually, your wife told me that if you switch to Eudora, she’s leaving you.

    Kidding aside, the big problem is not the format, it’s the field mapping. Some of them support a lot more fields than others. Anyone who’s synced an Outlook address book to a Palm PDA is familiar with this.

    It gets worse if, for instance, I want to have my home contacts with me at work, but not my work contacts at home.

    Fusion One can serve as a home base, and tries to keep all of the contact stores in sync, for those who are interested. I’ve not used it, so I don’t know if it does a decent job or not.

  2. You could decide the fields you wanted to store in the XML document, then map them as they were available on your client du jour.

    The big problem is that you would have to commit yourself to making this XML document THE source for your contact stuff. And when I can just right-click on an email address in Thunderbird and say “Add to Address Book…”, it makes it hard to say I would manually edit an XML file instead.

  3. Seems like LDAP is the way to go with this. I just wish Thunderbird would let me ADD/UPDATE records in the LDAP server…

    (You could always export to XML from the LDAP server if you like…)

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