One of the great tragedies of recent computing is that, in the midst of useful emerging standards for sharing information – vCalendar, RSS, WebDAV, IMAP etc, – we’ve ended up with LDAP (the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) as the standard way to access shared address books.
Don’t get me wrong, LDAP is powerful and is a great deal better than the X.500 standard from which it’s derived, but it’s just too hard to set up and administer for any organisation that isn’t a large corporation. And while most email programs and address books can query an LDAP server, almost none of them provide any way to update it. That’s assumed to be a job for the system administrator.
We need a much simpler, ideally XML-based, standard for publishing and subscribing to address books within small organisations or distributed groups. It wouldn’t be difficult to do – in the simplest model, your address book program would just read a vCard file on a web server every so often, cache a local copy, and allow you to search the contents. It would also allow you to publish all or part of your contacts to the site. People are sensitive about contact info, so some security would be needed – standard HTTP options should be fine.
In the meantime, if you do manage to get an LDAP server set up, the best thing I’ve come across for updating it is phpLDAPadmin.