Understanding Microformats for the Non-Technical Web Professional or Marketer

I’m not a developer or software engineer.

I am an individual that needs to understand technology in order to impelement web strategies –consider the following as a public learning experience.

I first heard Marc Canter talking about Microformats a few months ago, and talked to Tantek about it at dinner –I didn’t understand it fully at the time, I’m beginning to see the value now that so many voices are appearing on the web due to blogs and social media.

I am NOT a microformat expert, if you have a suggestion or correction, please leave a comment below and I’ll update the text –let’s learn together.

Q: What are Microformats?
A new method to organize unstructured information into an organized fashion that could be used universally. Edit: You can learn more about the “Big Picture on Microformats” from John Allsopp.
Q: I’m not technical, Why should I know about Microformats?
While still in it’s very early stages, this could be a protocol that could further define RSS or make information publishing, categorizing, or managing more effective. Marketers could benefit by quickly publishing information in organized methods, consumers could quickly obtain information in organized fashions.

Q: Why Microformats?
Social Media (blogs, forums, wikis, etc) are exploding; so many voices, reviews, thoughts, and memes are being spread through the internet, a method to identify, collect, organize, and repurpose/manage will be a service to the world. So much information, very little structure.

Q: How do they work?
Since it’s not a new language, it can be embedded in HTML (as I understand it from Wikipedia) I believe that RSS can also contain the information which will be great if you need to get the word out or update information quickly. Think Vitamin has published a nifty article on embedding Microformats in HTML.

Q: What are the Benefits?
Here’s some potential benefits that come to my mind. (and this is before coffee)

  • Quickly find all user reviews about a product across the internet. (Imagine how powerful that becomes if you can do this from a mobile device before buying a product)
  • Quickly update all your contact information as it appears across the entire internet
  • Quickly tell the whole world about an event and have it updated on every calendar
  • Search engines can do a better job of indexing and serving more accurate information
  • Quickly put up a product to sell that would publish on many websites (ebay, Craigslist, etc)
  • Quickly tell the world when this price has changed or if the product is off the market (sold)
  • Build a universal library of all food recipes and share you own, transmit this code to your local supermarket to assemble ingredients before you arrive, or ship
  • Tie your disparate intranet system using RSS and Microformats as the new protocol
  • Quickly create a press release and send to social media tools
  • Quickly create an image/video and publish to be shared in other social media tools
  • Create your own Microformat (like HCard, or HCalendar) for your own use (see wiki)

Q: What are the Challenges?

  • Adoption
  • Blog publishing tools or widgets will need to be added
  • All websites that want to stay relevant will need to ‘open up’ to opensource and opendata model
  • Folks inputting faulty data into Microformat structure

Q: Are Microformats related to RSS?
Yes, I believe that the Microformat content can be distributed via RSS just like other content.

Interact with this post
Have a question? Leave a comment
Have an answer? Leave a comment

I’ll share the findings with the Microformats team later…

  • Pingback: Understanding Microformats for the Non-Technical Web Professional or Marketer at microformatique - a blog about microformats and “data at the edges”()

  • Thanks for the excellent post Jeremiah. Thanks for the nice words about my article. There’s also an article of mine coming out in Digital Web tomorrow on who’s doing what with microformats, publishers big and small, tool developers and services.

    I’ve also just started a microformats focussed blog, to bring together news from around the web, do interviews with developers and adopters, and so on. Very much focussed on the web developers and designers “in the trenches” and practical everyday uses of the technology.

    Thanks, again,

    johnn

  • John

    I cruised your sites, nice stuff. Please let me know if you’ve any other non-technical info on MF.

  • Pingback: Rob Grady » Web Strategy by Jeremiah » Understanding Microformats for the Non-Technical Web Professional or Marketer()

  • A couple more for “What are the benefits?”:

    The microformat hResume can be used (in the future) to host your own marked-up resume that all the job hunting sites will dynamically link to. So, you don’t have to enter your resume on 30 sites (and be a slave to their defined categories) and don’t have to edit it in 30 places when you make a change. Guess it’s kinda like RSS for your resume.

    Speaking of RSS, the hAtom microformat allows you to mark up your HTML page so that it is readable by feedreaders (no need for a separate XML feed).

  • Adam

    Great suggestion, I like that one…

  • Pingback: Bluog - a blog about web culture » Blog Archive » What Are Microformats, Really?()

  • John

    I don’t really see the point of polluting your HTML with extra stuff while you could just use the tag to refer to an alternate version of the information in the proper format.

  • Pingback: » Noch mehr über Mikroformate — cne _LOG Archiv()

  • @John:

    Is it really “polluting” your markup? The browser can just ignore it when rendering it (*or* it adds all sorts of extra hooks to apply styles to, if you’d like to go that route). It’s actually making the markup *more* semantic if someone was to just read the HTML without rendering it in a browser. Is that more extraneous than actually having another set of data to maintain?

  • It’s not polluting your markup anymore than using classes are. Ironically, people presume that classes were developed for CSS, but the name stems from object-oriented programming, as is, what is the class of this object?

    The various other techniques used by microformats to embed semantics are certainly stretching the limited definitions of existing tags, but the problem that we’ve found is that duplicating data or hidden meta data is often poorly maintained as opposed to visible content (consider the spamming of meta tags).

    By using better semantic classes to describe visible data, publishers are incented to both maintain the content as well as the embedded semantic description of that content.

  • Pingback: Microformatique + MF Icons at FactoryCity()

  • Pingback: Microformats Mania at Like It Matters()

  • Pingback: Seattle’s Rain City Real Estate Guide » Flaming for Ardell()

  • Pingback: Web Strategy by Jeremiah » Defining Microformats –Attention Information Architect Community()

  • Pingback: Web Strategy by Jeremiah » Future of Online Storage, 40 points to think about()

  • Michael Maggard

    I don’t really see the point of polluting your HTML with extra stuff while you could just use the tag to refer to an alternate version of the information in the proper format.

    What “proper format”?

    Is there an ISO spec. for resumes I’m unaware of? Some WTO standard for reviews? Did a universal mechanism for exchanging event information get adopted while I was distracted?

    I’m pretty sure the answer is “no” to all of those.

    Microformats are the way to embed relevant information inside a web object so it can be trivially exchanged & extracted.

    Metatags are used on blogs, EXIF information in photos, MP3 tags in, er, MP3s, and µformats inside (x)html & variations. They’re intrinsic, not extrinsic, and so travel with their subject.

    Easily created, seamlessly integrated, marvelously fungable, µformats allow web content to be automagically indexable, digestable, remixable, and therefore more valuable. All with a few simple tags deliniating the various types of information.

    Ever find yourself manually copying and pasting event information into your calendar? Onerously typing in start & stop dates, then times, invariably getting day, month, or year wrong the first time, then a few similar go-rounds with street, city, phone number, etc.? What about adding a friend’s information to your address book, a line at a time?
    Sure there are specially formatted files that can exchange this information, the same file formats µformats are based on. But isn’t it nicer to have them easily extractable from the orignal web object instead of off in some random semi-associated, easily lost .vcf/.ics/.m-o-u-s-e file? How often do you get an email with a signature on it vs. one with an attached vcard, wouldn’t it be great if that signature was the equivalent of the vcard?

    Sure µformats are a bit more overhead. But are they more overhead then attaching the equivalent file? Do they increase the value of the material a commensurate amount by making it more useful? I expect in many cases the answer is “yes”.

    Furthermore there seems to be a healthy adoption of µformats in all sorts of leading web services, and the minute one of the big search engines starts making use of µformats then the content in place, already µformatted, will suddenly become star performers.

    Obviously it is your call if you start using µformats. However if you’re creating material you expect to “have legs”, you want it to have maximum usability, and down-the-road, functionality, then µformats are something to consider. They’ve some bang-for-the-buck now, and potentially an explosive amount Real-Soon-Now.

  • Michael

    You’re getting into some areas that I don’t have too much knowledge about. I saw Tantek speak a two days ago at the Future of Web Apps, and I took some notes about what he had to say about Microformats.

    http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2006/09/13/future-of-web-apps-conference-notes-day-1/

  • Pingback: Web Strategy by Jeremiah » Why I think the future of Online Data Storage will Pay You to Upload Data()

  • Bush and the Republicans were not protecting us on 9-11, and we aren’t a lot safer now. We may be more afraid due to george bush, but are we safer? Being fearful does not necessarily make one safer. Fear can cause people to hide and cower. What do you think? Is killing thousands of innocent civilians okay when you are doing a little government makeover?
    What happened to us, people? When did we become such lemmings?
    We have lost friends and influenced no one. No wonder most of the world thinks we suck. Thanks to what george bush has done to our country during the past three years, we do!

  • Pingback: Jeff McNeill » Blog Archive » links for 2007-07-22()

  • Hello! Good Site! Thanks you! gtztbfhikq

  • Pingback: Web Strategy by Jeremiah » Understanding Microformats for the Non-Technical Web Professional or Marketer | Rob Grady()

  • Some very intresting ideas and comments. I came across this page whilst looking for cheaper energy prices http://cheaperenergy.wordpress.com My bills haven risen by 35% this year and am now facing yet another increase by these greedy energy companies. (Thankfully I only rent so don’t have to worry about a mortgage as well.) Has anyone tries this green renewable energy? If so, be intrested to know how it worked for you.

  • A couple more for “What are the benefits?”:

    The microformat hResume can be used (in the future) to host your own marked-up resume that all the job hunting sites will dynamically link to. So, you don't have to enter your resume on 30 sites (and be a slave to their defined categories) and don't have to edit it in 30 places when you make a change. Guess it's kinda like RSS for your resume.

    Speaking of RSS, the hAtom microformat allows you to mark up your HTML page so that it is readable by feedreaders (no need for a separate XML feed).

  • Jack

    Whoa, I wasnt expecting to see so many benefits from using that. Nicely done.
    -Jack @ Email Backup

  • Serge

    Q: What are the disadvantages?