Address Book - where are we going?

Mark Banner mbanner at mozillamessaging.com
Tue Feb 8 21:26:08 UTC 2011


At the recentall-hands, we had several discussions touching on the 
address book. We've been struggling with what to do with the address 
book - whilst it feels that it needs some significant rework, especially 
in the back-end, there's a big question of what to rework it in to and how.

Thunderbird's address book is critically useful to Thunderbird's 
operations today. There are also areas in which many improvements are 
possible. Those areas include:

  * Improving the database schema for individuals, to accommodate an
    evolution in the kinds of information that users want to keep about
    their contacts (e.g. more & different fields, more values per fields)
  * Better integration with other sources of contact data, whether
    corporate (e.g. LDAP servers), operating system provided, or web &
    cloud-based systems.

More radically, Thunderbird's address book could be used as a generic 
mechanism to store a variety of kinds of information about contacts, 
which could then be used by other parts of the system (e.g. if we could 
tag contacts as 'friends', 'family', 'work', 'clients', etc., then there 
could be filtering & prioritizing systems which could build on them).

It's also worth pointing out that since Thunderbird 3 we also have a 
more modern database system which includes some contact information as 
part of the Gloda system, and that the current address book code is 
limited in its flexibility.

In order to explore some of the ideas described above while not 
destabilizing the current use cases, we're proposing the following approach:

1) In the short term, we will consider selected improvements to the 
existing code-base that address the most painful limitations of today's 
address book while minimizing the risk of regressions. We've identified 
two such candidates:

  * Allowing more than two email addresses per contact
    <https://wiki.mozilla.org/MailNews:Address_Book/Multiple_Email_Addresses>
  * Merging of contacts
    <https://wiki.mozilla.org/MailNews:Address_Book/Merging_Contacts>

There may also be more that we'll encourage as appropriate. The linked 
wiki pages are place holders with just some basic off-the-cuff notes, 
we'll flesh those out more as we move forward.

2) In parallel, we encourage experimentation on alternative address 
books from contributors of all kinds. We believe that it should be 
possible to create completely new address books for Thunderbird using 
the add-on model, and that building and learning from those add-ons will 
be the best way to identify successful outcomes, while not destabilizing 
the current working system. If developers encounter limitations in the 
APIs that prevent them from doing that kind of experimentation, we would 
be interested in fixing those in the platform.

There are some existing efforts that have been looking at Contacts and 
Contacts management on the internet(for example, the various 
<https://mozillalabs.com/contacts/> efforts 
<https://mozillalabs.com/messaging/thunderbird-contacts/> on Mozilla 
Labs). We feel that it is worth watching these as well as encouraging 
experimentation from within the Thunderbird area.

In the longer term, we are going to be investigating the address book 
use cases in more detail, looking to get some statistics, and working 
out proposals for moving the user experience forward.This will then 
drive the requirements for the back-end where we can decide in which 
direction to go.

Mark.
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