Address formats are hard, let's go shopping!

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/03/01 11:01 -05:00, original URI:

I am not sure when it started or by who, but there is a popular expression "Math is hard, let's go shopping!" that is perhaps best captured in the generic form "* is hard, let's go shopping!"

I believe the closest thing to a Language Log analysis is this post, so clearly there is work to be done....

Anyway, think of today's title as an homage to this particular phrase, which has been co-opted by various people on the GIFT team (perhaps the funniest use I have personally witnessed was "Shopping is hard, let's go sho-... um... never mind!"). And today's post is dedicated to fellow GIFT-ers Mike, Cathy, Kieran, and everyone else who has enjoyed using it. :-)

The other day Anutthara commented:

Hi Mike - it is interesting to note that the settings support for different locales is limited to date, time, currency and numbers and very minimal string based stuff (if you consider the date manipulation as string based i.e.) Now, we know that addresses and even names are represented differently in different countries like (FirstName, LastName or LastName, FirstName or FirstName.MiddleName.LastName) Is there any reason why these settings are not specific per a defined locale? I am sure apps like One Note or Outlook would require these settings. Is there an API to set/get this kind of format?

(the comment is unrelated to the post to which it was attached)

It is an excellent question that is often asked.

The problem is that it is improbable bordering on impossible to accurately capture the per-locale differences in address formats because there are so many possible differences.

I captured a sampling in my book and both v1 and v2 of Developing International Software did the same, but even these snapshots have many limitations in trying to capture the vast array of differences.

Outlook actually does attempt to do this sort of thing and has even offered up their data to NLS in the past as a "great way" for the OS to support this feature, but their actual support is incomplete and the limitations with the data simply do not meet the quality bar and leave the data as being little more than a starting point on the road to such a feature, without clear info on how best to capture the information for users.

Aside: interestingly, there is a thread going on right now in the NewsML 2 list about attempting to capture in a standard the differences in people's names. This effort, predictably enough, suffers from the problem that the late James Doohan aptly described in the third Star Trek movie -- "the more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain."

Whether the exact overthinking is in the NMTOKENS structure or the hugw number of attributes (family, rendition, pronounce, last, given, middle, nickname, baptismal, and so on), or in the extensive discussion on whether to use IPA for the pronunciation or not, I think this is destined to be yet another very complete and also very unused standard for capturing peoples' names across cultures.....

Now ignoring this latest [over-]development on the naming front, this is a problem that is worthy of a solution, though being worthy of a solution does not really get things solved, especially as an OS service (where email address are about 10000 times more likely to be useful). Even in Outlook it is a stretch as a required feature (though Exchange tries hard to support the many names in its addressbook features!), although the potental usefulness in Word for mail merge is undeniable (and also not really present there).

The generic issue brought up by Anutthara about the "simple" nature of the existing locale data is one that I plan to talk about tomorrow. :-)


This post brought to you by "" (U+0f52, TIBETAN LETTER DHA)

# Nick Lamb on 1 Mar 2006 12:54 PM:

Do you think 14652 is a useful contribution here?

# Jason on 1 Mar 2006 1:14 PM:

"Math is hard, let's go shopping" came from a talking Barbie doll.  Mattel got a lot of heat for that one (people believed it made the science and math gap between males and females worse).  Later models of the Barbie had the phrase deleted.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 1 Mar 2006 1:17 PM:

Not really -- 14652 is a standard that has no honest interest from actual  folks who would be implementing the actual standard, and from a process standpoint I would agree with the Japan NB on the way it has been managed and handled.

There is nothing useful that has come out of or probably ever will come out of 14652.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 1 Mar 2006 1:18 PM:

Thanks Jason -- I did wonder where that phrase came from! :-)

# Shoshannah Forbes on 2 Mar 2006 10:34 AM:

The thing is- even if I'm in a certain local, it doesn't mean that the addresses I work with will have the same format.
I am in Israel, but in my (Apple) address book I have people from France, Belgium, USA and UK. One format set by my local will simply not work for them.
Apple found a nice solution which I like very much- the *default* address format goes by my local. However, for each contact in my address book, I can right click (or CTRL+click if I had only one button), and set the address to a format that matches a different local.

I haven't checked- does Outlook support that kind of thing? Or is the display of the address format limited to a single one for all contacts?

# aside on 2 Mar 2006 1:29 PM:

Spelling 'format' is hard, let's go shopping.

Just pointing out your usage of the less common spelling with the 'n' :D

# Michael S. Kaplan on 2 Mar 2006 1:56 PM:

Oops! There is a typo worth fixing! :-)

# Liz on 2 Mar 2006 4:18 PM:

This snowclone reminds me of a joke I heard from a highschool student with (well-remediated) ADHD:

How many kids with ADHD does it take to change a lightbulb?
Let's ride bikes!

# Anutthara MSFT on 3 Mar 2006 1:26 AM:

Thanks for the post, Michael. Infact I was asked this q by Kranthi, a colleague of mine.  We have a working group for i18n here in India Dev Centre of Microsoft, where we do come across some interesting qs asked by other developers.  Your blog continues to be an indispensable source of info for all such curious qs which may not be answered anywhere else on the web! Keep at it...

Michael S. Kaplan on 8 Apr 2006 5:24 PM:

cinthia on 27 Oct 2011 8:20 AM:

does anyone know who wrote this article in the wall street journal and on what page it was mentioned?

referenced by

2011/06/13 “Word isn't always ‘smart’.” You can quote me on that (since I said it in English)...

2011/03/28 Address formats are hard, let's go shopping!, revisited (aka To me, 'good enough' just isn't good enough)

2006/12/04 Is it a bird? Or a plane, perhaps? No, it's my neurologist!

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