vCard logovCard: The Electronic Business Card

Version 2.1

A versit Consortium White Paper
January 1, 1997


Personal Data Interchange (PDI) occurs every time two or more individuals communicate, in either a business or personal context, face-to-face, or across space and time. Such interchanges frequently include the exchange of informal information, such as business cards, telephone numbers, addresses, dates and times of appointments, etc. Augmenting PDI with electronics and telecommunications can help ensure that information is quickly and accurately communicated, stored, organized and easily located when needed.

Personal information, by nature, is complex and diverse. Currently, proprietary standards exist to structure some types of PDI information, but no single, open specification comprehensively addresses the needs of collecting and communicating PDI information across many common communication channels such as telephones, voice-mail, e-mail, and face-to-face meetings.

The traditional types of textual information corresponding to that found on a paper business card have been enhanced in the vCard specification with multimedia information. This includes digital image and audio data. This multimedia is captured within the vCard in a format defined by accepted international and industry standards.

The versit Consortium was a multivendor development initiative of the communication and computer industries, founded by Apple, AT&T, IBM and Siemens. The versit vision was to enable diverse communication and computing devices, applications and services from competing vendors to interoperate in all environments. To this end, the versit parties jointly defined and supported open specifications. These specifications are made freely available to any interested party. The versit Consortium disbanded at the end of 1996 after handing over control of vCard to the Internet Mail Consortium.

The Electronic Business Card Revolution

The vCard specification allows the open exchange of PDI information typically found on traditional paper business cards. The specification defines a format for an electronic business card, or vCard. The vCard format is the first step in a revolution in the way people communicate with each other electronically.

The vCard specification is suitable as an interchange format between applications or systems. The format is defined independent of the particular method used to transport it. The transport for this exchange might be a file system, point-to-point public switched telephone networks, wired-network transport, or some form of unwired transport.

A vCard is intended to be used for exchanging information about people and resources. In today's business environment, this information is typically exchanged on business cards. It is appropriate, then that the vCard specification define this information in terms of a paradigm based on an electronic business card object.

The ultimate destination for this information is often a collection of business cards, Rolodex® file, or electronic contact manager. Prior to the introduction of the vCard specification, users of such applications typically had to re-key the original information, often transcribing it from paper business cards. With the advent of the vCard specification, this information can be exchanged in an automated fashion.

The basis for the data types supported by this specification have their origin in openly defined, international standards and in additional capabilities based on enhancements suggested in numerous public demonstrations of vCard exchange using the Internet's World-Wide-Web, infra-red data transport, and simultaneous voice and data (SVD) modems.

vCard Leverages Existing Standards

The definition of the vCard Specification made use of a number of existing standards.

The "person" object defined by the CCITT X.500 Series Recommendation for Directory Services was heavily referenced for the capabilities that are defined by vCard. Every attempt was made to make it possible to map the X.520/X.521 attributes and objects into and out of an instance of a vCard. This will facilitate the exchanging a vCard with X.500-based network directory services; such as those found in emerging client/server electronic messaging services.

The vCard specification has extended the capabilities that have been defined within the CCITT X.500 Series Recommendation to allow the exchange of additional information often recorded on business cards and electronic contact managers. For example, this specification provides support for exchanging graphic images representing company logos, photographs of individuals, digital sound clips, and geo-positioning information. Such multimedia objects were not standardized by the X.500 standard.

The vCard specification also captures date and time information. The specification of all such values in a vCard are defined in terms of the international standard for representation of dates and times, ISO 8601. The use of this standard assures communication throughout all parts of the world; even those that may use different date, time, and time zone formats.

The format used in the vCard specification for telephone numbers is based on existing ITU and industry standards. This allows for the personal data conveyed in a vCard to be readily used within computer telephony applications, such as new digital telephones and existing PBX or other customer premise equipment.

The traditional types of textual information corresponding to that found on a paper business card have been enhanced in the vCard specification with multimedia information. This includes digital image and audio data. This multimedia is captured within a vCard in a format defined by accepted international and industry standards.

Application To PIM and Contact Card Products

The requirements for the electronic business card go beyond the definitions of a "person" object found in either the CCITT X.500 Series Recommendation, network directory services, or electronic mail address book products. The vCard specification is needed to address the requirements for an interchange format for the "person" personal data type or object.

Today, Personal data applications such as Personal Information Managers (PIM) often provide an import/export capability using Comma Separated Value (CSV) or Tab Delimited Files (TDF) formats. However, these solutions do not preserve the intent of the originating application. When a CSV and TDF format is used by a PIM, the meta-data or semantics of the originating object are only apparent to a similar version of the originating application.

The reliability and complexity of the exchange of data between PIM and contact card applications is greatly improved by the adoption of an industry-standard specification for an electronic business card interchange format, such as the vCard specification. The Internet Mail Consortium is encouraging the leading PIM vendors that have already indicated their intent to support the vCard specification.

Impact of vCard on Your Desktop

When integrating vCard support into an application, an implementor must consider a number of user interface implications. Most applications provide some levels of support for interacting with other applications. This is usually accomplished in three ways. These include the File System, the Clipboard, and Drag/Drop techniques. The full potential of the vCard technology can be better utilized by an application that supports the vCard specification in each of these user interface forms.

Applications integrating support for the vCard specification will provide support for importing and exporting vCard objects from the operating system's file system. In operating systems that support file types, this means that a standard file type can be used to distinguish the vCard objects. Applications will use the file system capabilities to support the FileOpen and FileSaveAs, or their equivalent function, of a vCard object in much the same way that graphics application today use a metafile format to import and export computer graphics objects.

Applications integrating support for the vCard specification will also provide user interface capabilities for exchanging vCard objects through the operating system's clipboard. The clipboard is a memory-to-memory transfer capability that is supported in most operating systems. This user interface form greatly enhances an end-user's ability to communicate data between desktop applications. The vCard specification standardizes the way that its personal data is identified on clipboard. This allows all applications to make use of the operating system's clipboard capability to support the Cut, Copy, and Paste, or their equivalent function, of a vCard object.

A recently accepted user interface form for communicating data between desktop application is by use of a drag/drop metaphor. The vCard specification standardizes the way vCard information is identified to the drag/drop protocols of an operating system This allows all applications to make use of the operating system's drag/drop capability to enable the application to drag or drop a vCard object between desktop applications.

A combination of these three user interface forms enhances the utility of any desktop application. Enabling these user interface forms to handle vCard information can turn your desktop application into a powerful personal data tool.

Use of vCard on The Internet

The vCard has direct application to the way users utilize the Internet network. The vCard can be used to forward personal data in an electronic mail message. The numerous forms a user of the World Wide Web fills out on a homepage can also be automated using the vCard.

Traditionally, an Internet electronic mail message includes the personal information of the author in a message prolog or epilog. Today, this is in the form of a textual greeting or a message suffix. This information is useful in continuing the electronic mail dialog with the originator of a message. However, such communication generally requires the re-keying of the information from the prolog or epilog into the personal address book or distribution list in the electronic mail product. Support by electronic mail products for a standard format for personal information, such as the vCard, will allow a recipient of an electronic mail message to automatically record the originator's personal information by merely dragging the electronic mail message onto their personal address book. Even existing electronic mail products can exchange vCard information today, without any modifications.

The Internet Mail Consortium is working with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to complete work on an extension to the Internet MIME-based electronic mail standard to allow for this capability. This work is designed to be used to transport directory information across Internet MIME based electronic mail services. The internet draft is directly applicable to the exchange of business card data, such as that defined by the vCard specification.

Another application of the vCard to the Internet is its use as a method for automatically filling in the numerous homepage forms used within the World Wide Web. Personal data is often requested and captured by the use of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) files by the owner of a WWW homepage. This information must be keyed in, repeatedly. This process can be sped up by support of the vCard by World Wide Web browser applications and homepage servers.

Broad Industry Support

The definition of the vCard Version 2.1 Specification was based on input from a broad segment of the computer industry. Organizations participating in the review and comment on the specification included Apple Computer, Attachmate Corporation, AT&T, Business Cards Tomorrow, CitySearch, Counterpoint Systems Foundry, EdVenture Holdings, First Virtual Holdings, Four11, IBM, IntelliLink, Infra-Red Data Association, Kalman Technologies, Lotus Development Corporation, Microsoft, NetManage, Netscape Communications Corporation, Now Software, OnTime, Puma Technologies, Ring Zero Systems, Salutation Consortium, Siemens, Starfish Software, Symantec, Tribeca Global, University of Michigan.

Summary of Changes, vCard Version 2.0 to Version 2.1

The versit Consortium published vCard Version 2.1, which is an upgrade from Version 2.0. The improvements range from additional workstation platforms supported by shareware applets to the implementation of changes created by the adoption of vCard in the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) Access and Security Internet Directory (ASID) Working Group.The vCard Version 2.1 has been further enhanced by industry and customer suggestions. Version 2.1 is upward compatible from Version 2.0.

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