No vCard please (on Usenet)

If the program you use for posting to Usenet newsgroups lets you specify a vCard (called "Address Book Card" in Netscape vocabulary) to be attached to each message, don't use that possibility. If you've decided to use it for outgoing E-mail, turn it off for Usenet postings. The vCard attachments are not welcome on Usenet. You can use plain text signatures (sigs) instead.

The vCard idea was developed by the Internet Mail Consortium for personal data interchange. It's like a digital version of a business card, and a great idea within its scope of applicability. There is an RFC about it: RFC 2426, vCard MIME Directory Profile.

(My own vCard is available) What that scope is varies by time and environment. For example, putting a link to your vCard onto your personal Web page might be nice to people who wish to access information about you in that format. (Naturally you would then need to upload a copy of the vCard onto a Web server and handle eventual server-side issues; the commonly used MIME type for vCard is text/x-vcard.) I don't think the scope of reasonable use covers normal Internet E-mail, except when sending to people who are known to be willing to receive vCard attachements. If you know that all recipients of your message use an E-mail program that can handle vCards, then you might consider attaching a vCard to that message. (Even then, what happens when some of the recipients is not using his normal E-mail program, e.g. because he's visiting some place with E-mail facilities different from what he is used to?) But attaching a vCard to E-mail messages by default is wrong, if you ask me. Now back to the main point here, namely why vCards do not belong to Usenet postings.

Various topical FAQ documents for Usenet groups often contain good general advice on posting to Usenet. The SETI@home FAQ contains an entry answering the question What is a 'vcard' and why do people tell me not to use them? as follows:

A vcard is only readable by a newsreader capable of rendering html. For this reason and because vcards are 'attached' to the Usenet posting, they are not recommended. They are also very annoying in that they very rarely change. This is analogous to giving everyone you talk to your business card each and every time you talk with them... after a while, we have enough of your cards, and we really don't want any more. A signature is the preferred method to communicate pertinent personal information.

That's not quite correct technically, since the vCard format has nothing to do with the HTML format. But it is true that usually a newsreader that is capable of displaying HTML format messages can handle vCard too, and vice versa. It is also very true that HTML format messages should not be posted to Usenet.

But the basic point is very correct, and very well presented. There another points, which is rather essential even if you don't agree with the thoughts above:

Message with vCard attachments are, by definition, binary data. There are very good reasons not to send binary data to Usenet, except perhaps to groups specifically designated as binary groups. In particular, binary postings often get cancelled from servers automatically, so irrespectively of what potential readers might think about it, a posting with a binary attachment may never reach them. See The Bincancel FAQ for more information.

Technically, a vCard attachment itself is of type text/x-vcard, so it is text, broadly speaking. But on Usenet, "text" means 'plain text'. Moreover, a message with a vCard attachment is sent as a multipart message containing two parts (the message and the vCard), and such messages are definitely not in text format! See MIME specifications for more information about media types.

How vCards fail

I did a simple test. I configured Outlook Express to attach my vCard to my Usenet postings (just for testing, in a test group)! This is how people see such a posting when viewing it on OE:

Message headers like From, Organization, etc. displayed
in a subwindow, and a business card icon appearing in the
upper right corner there. Message text below that in
another subwindow.

In the example above, and in examples below, there are references to my old identity at hut.fi. I haven't changed them, partly because ther are just examples.

People could then just ignore that business card icon, or they might click on it to view the card somehow, perhaps in a handy format and with a possibility to extract the information, e.g. into an address book.

Here's how Netscape (Collabra) might show the message:

Message headers like Subject, Date, etc., shown first,
then the message body in a different form, and then the texts
"Jukka K. Korpela" and "Jukka.Korpela@hut.fi"
as links, along with two buttons: View Complete Card and
Add to Address Book

And then the Netscape user could use the buttons to see the full card (e.g. to find the postal address) and to store the information into his address book. Convenient. The idea is nice - when it works.

But lets's see an example of how another newsreader displays it, effectively showing it "as is" at the plain data level:

From: "Jukka Korpela" <Jukka.Korpela@hut.fi>
Subject: Testing my brand new vCard!
Newsgroups: sfnet.aloittelijat.testit

This is a multi-part message in MIME format.

------=_NextPart_000_0006_01C03F5E.1C27A5D0
Content-Type: text/plain;
charset="utf-8"
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

This is kewl! (Or perhaps not.)

------=_NextPart_000_0006_01C03F5E.1C27A5D0
Content-Type: text/x-vcard;
name="Jukka K. Korpela.vcf"
Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
Content-Disposition: attachment;
filename="Jukka K. Korpela.vcf"

BEGIN:VCARD
VERSION:2.1
N:Korpela;Jukka;K.
FN:Jukka K. Korpela
ADR;HOME:;;P=E4iv=E4ns=E4teenkuja 4 as. 1;Espoo;;02210;Finland
LABEL;HOME;ENCODING=3DQUOTED-PRINTABLE:P=3DE4iv=3DE4ns=3DE4teenkuja 4 =
as. 1=3D0D=3D0AEspoo 02210=3D0D=3D0AFinland
URL:../
EMAIL;PREF;INTERNET:Jukka.Korpela@hut.fi
REV:20001026T120459Z
END:VCARD

------=_NextPart_000_0006_01C03F5E.1C27A5D0--

If you think that people using newsreaders that cannot handle multipart messages, vCards, etc., should just "upgrade" to newsreaders that can, please note that it is often not an available option at all. Usenet messages are intended to be accessible in plain text viewing. And very important services like Google Groups are not aimed at handling vCards either. Its predecessor Deja showed vCards essentially as in the latter example above. The current approach seems to ignore non-text content, so e.g. the Google Groups copy of my test article lacks any sign of a vCard, unless you peek at the "Original Format", which still has the headers for a multipart message.

Using a signature (sig) instead

For information on signatures as used on Usenet, see the Signatures site by Sven Guckes. The basic format is simple:

Example:

-- 
Jukka "Yucca" Korpela, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/

(That's a rather minimalist sig. Yet, it lets the reader, if interested, get information about the poster by using the personal home page URL. Several newsreaders let the user just click on the URL to get the page.)

Your newsreader most probably lets you specify which text file is to be appended to your Usenet postings as a signature, or lets you type in the signature content directly and have it stored by the program. Just make sure you know whether the program automatically inserts the sig separator or whether you need to include that into what you type. If your newsreader doesn't support signatures, consider getting a better newsreader. Note that good newsreaders let you specify different signatures to be used for different groups. For example, you might wish to mention different Web pages of yours in your sig, depending on the topic of the group, or you might have "personal" and "business" sigs.

OK, how do I do that?

Assuming that your current settings cause your vCard to be sent as attached to your Usenet postings, here are instructions for some programs on fixing it.

On Outlook Express, select Tools, item Stationery... A window pops up, with Mail and News on the top. Select News and click on Signature... Then uncheck Attach card to all outgoing messages. The situation should look like the following, or something similar (this is from OE 4 for WinNT; details may vary between OE versions):

[OE screen shot]

Then just click on OK as needed to confirm the settings. Note that you can specify a signature to be appended if you like, as above, but this setting is independent of vCard settings.

On Netscape (Collabra), select Edit, item Preferences.... A Preferences window appears. Select category "Mail & Groups", subcategory "Identity". Uncheck Always attach Address Book Card to messages. The situation should like like the following, more or less:

[Netscape Collabra screen shot]

Finally just confirm by clicking on OK as needed.