MLS 2.9 Export Formats

Discussions around using and interfacing with the Church MLS program.
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aebrown
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MLS 2.9 Export Formats

Postby aebrown » Sat Aug 09, 2008 9:10 am

pete_arnett wrote:Exported MLS files containing address information, such as family data or individual data, have been changed from Palm file format to vCard file format, which is a more widely-used standard. Palm brand devices should be able to handle the vCard format without difficulty.


Could someone from the Church clarify this? Exactly which export files does it apply to?

The statement "Exported MLS files containing address information" would apply to every one of the export files except for Organization.csv. However the part about "from Palm file format" would seem to indicate that only PalmIndividual.csv and PalmFamily.csv are affected.

There is an implied assumption in this statement that is based on a falsehood. First of all, to say that vCard file format is more widely used that Palm format may be true, but it is irrelevant. What is exported is CSV format. It may happen to be a flavor of CSV that is usable by Palm software, but because it is CSV it has many more uses than just with Palm devices. The CSV file format is many times more commonly used than vCard, and that is the essential question, not vCard vs. Palm. The Palm*.csv files are used in my stake much more often for purposes that have nothing to do with Palm devices.

As has been discussed on another thread, there are many reasons why the CSV file format should continue to be supported, even if the Church decides to add vCard.

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Postby RossEvans » Sat Aug 09, 2008 10:50 am

Alan_Brown wrote:Could someone from the Church clarify this? Exactly which export files does it apply to?...

As has been discussed on another thread, there are many reasons why the CSV file format should continue to be supported, even if the Church decides to add vCard.


I second Alan_Brown's question, which I also raised in the other thread.




Specifically, at the ward level, there now are six .csv export files:
  • Membership Data (Membership.csv)
  • Organization Data (Organization.csv)
  • Home Teaching Data (HomeTeaching.csv)
  • Visiting Teaching Data (VisitingTeaching.csv)
  • Palm Family (PalmFamily.csv)
  • Palm Individual (PalmIndividual.csv)
Are only the two Palm files being eliminated in favor of vCard files, or all six?

I would note that even the two Palm files are the basis for multiple applications in use by bishoprics and clerks, not all of which have anything to do with a Palm-branded PDA. Eliminating those existing .csv files abruptly will break things that many ward leaders depend on today.

[Added note: The PalmFamily.csv file today can be used by anyone with Excel. They don't have to own a Palm device at all. Just double-click on the file name and Excel will display the file (including a friendly display of the pesky multiline formatting inside the large consolidated cell containing a summary of information about each family). If an end-user double-cllicks on a vCard file, Windows wants to copy it into Oulook or another contacts manager, a much more limited use.]

When professional software vendors are deprecating something, they typically give users ample warning, document the change in advance and phasing it in over time while supporting the deprecated version. So if the intent is to replace the two Palm files with vCard equivalents, the two file formats should at least be supported in parallel for some time.

As for the other four .csv files, these flat-file formats have nothing to do with Palm. These are simple tables that have been in use even since the days of MIS (perhaps in exactly the same form, perhaps with minor revisions, I'm not certain). I clearly remember using such export files as a clerk 10 years ago. I have no doubt that many, many bishoprics and clerks have processes built on such files. I know we do in our ward. For such generalized utility, the .csv format is ideal and should not be abandoned.

[p.s. For the record, the antecedant files in the old MIS system were called Memout.Dat, Orgout.Dat, and HTVTout.Dat. I don't specifically recall whether they were comma-delimited or in some other physical layout, but they were basic flat files corresponding to the content of the four basic .csv exports from MLS today.]

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Postby pbhanney » Sun Aug 10, 2008 6:22 am

Version 2.9 downloaded this morning in my ward and the only files that were changed to the vCard were the two Palm files. These are now labeled "Export vCard Family Data" and "Export vCard Individual Data."

The other CSV files (Membership, Home Teaching, Visiting Teaching, and Organization) are all still CSV files.

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Postby RossEvans » Sun Aug 10, 2008 7:17 am

pbhanney wrote:Version 2.9 downloaded this morning in my ward and the only files that were changed to the vCard were the two Palm files. These are now labeled "Export vCard Family Data" and "Export vCard Individual Data."

The other CSV files (Membership, Home Teaching, Visiting Teaching, and Organization) are all still CSV files.


Thanks for the hard information! Too bad we had to find out the facts the hard way.

At least we know now that the intent is not to enforce some draconian new policy deliberately aimed at shutting down external helper apps. This is apparently just a technical debacle, not a policy shift.

I know my own mapping scriptswill be broken, because the geocoding script is designed to read the now-defunct PalmFamily.csv. I don't know what this will do to my bishop's Palm-based application, or how it will affect thousands of other bishoprics or clerks out there. They get to find out the hard way, too.

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Postby RossEvans » Sun Aug 10, 2008 3:04 pm

2.9 was not pushed out to our ward today, so I have not yet seen the new vCard format that replaces PalmFamily.csv. And of course there is no documentation. (The general vCard standard is published, but I have no idea what the Church's implementation within that standard looks like.) If anyone has such a file, and could edit a representative sample of a few fictitious records for me, I would appreciate it. If you are not comfortable posting it, you might consider a private message to me. There are some things, of course, that I can't test until I get a real file.

Meanwhile, I did determine that my bishop's Palm application will not be affected. He uses the Ward Tools commercial helper app, which depends on the four .csv files that are not changing. But someone else might be using PalmFamily.csv in Excel.

The vCard is a nice exhange format if all you want is a contact manager as an advanced Rolodex, but it really is not a replacement for the generalized application of csv files, which are generic database tables..

BTW, for those who do want to import the vCard file into Outlook, the contact manager with the largest installed base out there, did anyone ever find an optimal tool for loading a .vcf file of multiple records? I see that problem reported in another thread, but the only real solution offered seemed to be purchasing a third-party conversion utility. I see there are several on the market. Perhaps those who do use vCard heavily in Oulook could help others populate that application with the new files.

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Postby rmrichesjr » Sun Aug 10, 2008 4:58 pm

boomerbubba wrote:2.9 was not pushed out to our ward today, so I have not yet seen the new vCard format that replaces PalmFamily.csv. And of course there is no documentation. (The general vCard standard is published, but I have no idea what the Church's implementation within that standard looks like.) If anyone has such a file, and could edit a representative sample of a few fictitious records for me, I would appreciate it. If you are not comfortable posting it, you might consider a private message to me. There are some things, of course, that I can't test until I get a real file.
...


The obvious solution to the switch from .csv format to vCard format for the two exports is to write a conversion program. It would seem to make sense for the first person to have such a program working to share it, or to make an open-source project out of it.

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Postby jbh001 » Sun Aug 10, 2008 6:13 pm

boomerbubba wrote:Thanks for the hard information! Too bad we had to find out the facts the hard way.

At least we know now that the intent is not to enforce some draconian new policy deliberately aimed at shutting down external helper apps. This is apparently just a technical debacle, not a policy shift.

I know my own mapping scripts will be broken, because the geocoding script is designed to read the now-defunct PalmFamily.csv. I don't know what this will do to my bishop's Palm-based application, or how it will affect thousands of other bishoprics or clerks out there. They get to find out the hard way, too.

1. MLS 2.9 is in BETA release. At this point it has only been released as a beta for 2 DAYS.

2. A .csv file is a .csv file is a .csv file. As a ward clerk, and as someone with inferred technical skills that are more than adequate for such a thing, there should be nothing preventing you from downloading the beta from http://mls.lds.org yourself, installing it on your own computer, configuring the Test Ward (Ward # 108, Stake # 2224445), exporting various .csv files, and comparing the output in the spreadsheet or text editor of your choice.

3. The Church has nothing to do with Palm's marketshare decline, or with the iPhone's popularity for that matter. Therefore there is nothing "draconian" in shifting from a dwindling format to format that is becoming more prominent.

4. That this shift from a "Palm" .csv to a vCard .csv will affect "thousands" of bishoprics is a bit of hyperbole, unless you have the statistics to back it up (especially when 72.4% of all statistics are made up on the spot.) :)

That you register your displeasure for the shift is not a problem. That you do so with an acerbic tone does not help persuade anyone that can do anything about it of the merits of your position any more than that of a whining teenager.

I currently use none of these exports because they require more tweaking to be usable than I am willing to do. Even so, unless there was some technical or financial reason not to, a phased transition from Palm to vCard would have been preferable.

But since I am not privy to the reasons why those decisions were made, and it is likely that neither were you, it is bad form to express your dissatisfaction with the change in such a manner in a church sponsored forum. I hope that in the future I see your viewpoints expressed in a more professional manner within this forum.

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Postby aebrown » Sun Aug 10, 2008 6:20 pm

jbh001 wrote:2. A .csv file is a .csv file is a .csv file.

4. That this shift from a "Palm" .csv to a vCard .csv will affect "thousands" of bishoprics is a bit of hyperbole, unless you have the statistics to back it up (especially when 72.4% of all statistics are made up on the spot :).


Just to clarify, vCard is not CSV in any way, shape or form. vCard does not import into a spreadsheet. So you might want to reconsider some of your technical arguments.

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Postby RossEvans » Sun Aug 10, 2008 7:06 pm

jbh001 wrote:1. MLS 2.9 is in BETA release. At this point it has only been released as a beta for 2 DAYS..


Then perhaps there is a chance to make a course correction. In general that's what feedback is for.

How are betas treated in this context? I know developers who would tend to say defensively, "There is nothing wrong with the beta. The .csv file output was dropped by design, so by definition there is no bug. Issue closed." Or is the design decision itself open to reconsideration?

jbh001 wrote:1But since I am not privy to the reasons why those decisions were made, and it is likely that neither were you, it is bad form to express your dissatisfaction with the change in such a manner in a church sponsored forum. I hope that in the future I see your viewpoints expressed in a more professional manner within this forum.


I am sorry you find my expressions unprofessional. Upon reflection, I really don't. In a less sheltered and insular environment, such as private- or public-sector software development organizations, a release that breaks users' processes downstream could have much less civil repercussions. It is axiomatic in software product development that the worst thing one can do is take away something users already like and depend on. If that must be done for some compelling strategic reason -- and there is no suggestion of that yet in this case -- it needs to be done gracefully by such strategies as parallel operation of the deprecated functionality for a transition period.

There is no issue of disrespect for the Church, which of course does sponsor this forum. (No one asserts, for example, that there is a priesthood position in favor of .vcf files or against .csv files. This is being discussed here as a technical issue.) In this case the IT department at CHQ is more analogous to the internal IT department of any large organization, which has captive internal "customers" -- the users, the business, etc. The users of MLS are in the units. I am one of them and I am providing some no-nonsense feedback. IT departments everywhere have an institutional tendency to be closed and autocratic, but in the healthy IT organizations I have seen, the lesson to "listen to the customer" is drilled home. If this forum cannot be a channel for such criticism, just because the IT department works for the Church, then I misunderstand its charter.

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Postby russellhltn » Sun Aug 10, 2008 10:50 pm

jbh001 wrote:A .csv file is a .csv file is a .csv file.


Oh, you'd be surprised. Try and look at what Excel calls a "CSV" file when it saves to that format. That's the worst example, but I'm sure I've seen a few others.


jbh001 wrote:The Church has nothing to do with Palm's marketshare decline, or with the iPhone's popularity for that matter. Therefore there is nothing "draconian" in shifting from a dwindling format to format that is becoming more prominent.


The problem is the abrupt discontinuation of a format that's already in use. Doing that in private enterprise can earn you some unpleasant rewards.


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