life, death and address books (was Re: [uf-discuss] hCard and Life Dates?)

Tantek Ç elik tantek at
Wed Apr 19 08:52:19 PDT 2006

I find myself very much agreeing with Chris's sentiments, in particular:

On 4/19/06 7:36 AM, "Chris Messina" <chris.messina at> wrote:

> On 4/19/06, Ryan Cannon <ryan at> wrote:
>> Besides, doesn't dtstart and dtend seem a little, well, cold?
> And 'dday' isn't? ;)

'dday' struck me as wrong for this (this is a new term for the date of
someone's death AFAIK, and collides with an existing well-known meaning for
"DDay" which there is no reason to collide with AFAIK).

> It seems like the use of birthdays in vcards is telling in this
> example... after all, you want to know a birthday in order to
> celebrate it -- i.e. send someone a card. It's typically not stored in
> your address book to gauge time passed (though determining age can be
> useful).

Agreed. There is an implied "present tense" in vCard, an implication that
you would use the vCard to do something with/for the person/organization in
the future, an implication that the person/organization is "living" and can
be interacted with.  Nowhere does it say this in the spec AFAIK, but it sure
seems strongly implied by the design.

I suppose the truly morbid could reuse vCard's "adr" and/or "geo" to keep
track of burial locations of the dead.

Still this just doesn't seem right to me.

I know that I've personally struggled with what to do with people I've known
in my address book who have passed away (grandparents, aunts, an uncle, the
journalist Daniel Pearl).  It's been very emotionally difficult to figure
out what to do frankly.  Deleting them just seems wrong.  And yet, if you
want to keep them in your address book, how do you indicate to your
automatic tools that they should invite them to events etc.?  Mark them no
longer as a friend?  That seems wrong too.  For now I've simply blanked out
their address and contact info so that no tools contact them simply because
they *used to* live somewhere.

What have others done with entries of people in their address book who have
passed away?

I don't have a good answer, other than it certainly seems quite wrong to
*add* dead people to an address book, and thus I would avoid marking them up
as hCards on the Web.  Of course what do you do when someone with an hCard
dies?  Like I said, I don't have a good answer.  Perhaps we can wait and see
what surviving relatives do.  I suppose we can look at how people maintain
(or not) the websites of those that pass away.

Does anyone know of any previous work in this area? (How to properly (and
respectfully) have dead people in address books?)

> In the example given, I believe that we're looking at a use of
> hcalendar -- not hcard. We want to know the length of time and the
> specific period that someone lived -- especially in the context of
> other lifetimes. Storing the date of someone's death in a vcard seems
> a bit peculiar...

Agreed.  A "past event" seems more fitting to document the life of someone
who has passed away.

> though I suppose useful if you're doing automated
> processing -- like sending out tax notices. In that case, 'dday' would
> be appropriate, since it would be used as a criterium test for whether
> someone meets the criteria for receiving such a notice (namely, that
> they're still alive).

Rather, in that case, the notice should probably go to whoever is tending to
their estate.  Perhaps the AGENT property would be useful for that.  I
suppose that then demonstrates that there may be still some utility in
having an hCard for someone who passed away, if their hCard uses AGENT to
indicate who to contact regarding any personal matters.

> So, to summarize. In this case, I think hcalendar in the context of
> the hcard makes sense (perhaps a combination of both). In other cases
> (as in, "Einstein, deceased: 1955, Franklin, deceased: 1790"), you'd
> want to use 'dday' and leave out the hcal stuff. These are simply my
> opinions, but I thought I'd throw them out anyway.

Another thought is this - the examples given so far (and we should always be
reasoning from the examples) look like information in the context of a
citation. E.g. the Einstein reference looks like a first reference
(citation) in some larger discussion.

Rather than attempting to shoehorn this into hCard, perhaps citations are
the right place to think about this?



>> On 18 Apr 2006, at 5:34 PM, timothy.gambell at wrote:
>>> Hi All,
>>> How do I say "Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879 ­ April 18, 1955)"
>>> using hCard? Specifically, what is the best way of expressing a
>>> person's life dates?
>>> "bday" seems like an obvious choice for date of birth. Would adding a
>>> term like "dday" be appropriate for date of death?
>>> Or would it be better to use "dtstart" and "dtend" from hCalendar?
>>> This feels more elegant, except that "bday" is a more semantically
>>> precise than "dtstart".
>>> Or maybe some hybrid? perhaps class="bday dtstart" for birthday and
>>> class="dtend" for death date?
>>> Tim.
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