Tuesday, 6 February 2007

WebDD: Microformats

This was the first talk I attended and was presented by Glenn Jones (Creative Director of Madgex - the company who provide backnetwork for those who where at the conference). I did know a bit about the hype surrounding microformats, but nothing about the technology itself.

In summary microformats are meta tags which allow computers to parse, and make sense of the human readable data on a web page. The format is still a very open, with no real hard standard. But the following different types of micrformats appear to be agreed upon:

  • hCalendar (Events)
  • hCard (Contact cards)
  • rel-license (License information)
  • rel-nofollow (used to link to something, but not endorse it - I.E. link to something for a human, but not for Google)
  • rel-tag (the relation of the link to your page)
  • VoteLinks (used for votes! - allows a search bot to crawl your site without having to vote for something!)
  • XFN (Used to describe your friends)
  • XMDP (Markup for profiles)
[Taken from http://microformats.org/wiki/Main_Page]

Immediately it is obvious the benefits that this presents to search engines, giving them more contextual information means they can more accurately list your content!

Another not so obvious use of microformats is data extraction by other developers. As a developer I have had to extract data from web sites in the past and its not very easy at all, especially if you are using multiple sites or site that change often! Mash up site developers are going to love you if you use microformats, and be far more likely to use your site as a data source if you make it easy for them! Backnetwork is a great example. This site extracts microformat data from RSS feeds and mashes up all the different sources of information into one good looking site - except it doesn't appear to like my RSS feed:-(!

Browser extensions are another great potential use of microformats - currently there are a few FireFox extensions, but this area is obviously very much in its infancy (stay tuned though;-])

So, time to review the actual seminar (fully microformat encoded of course!)

Rating 5 out of 5 stars

Microformats Rock!

Reviewer: Ross Dargan - February 6th 2007

This was the first time I could really see the benefits of microformats.

Glenn Jones gave a really convincing, and well delivered talk showing where and why to use microformats. You can grab his slides at http://www.glennjones.net/downloads/MicroformatsHTMLtoAPI.pdf, and they are well worth looking at.

One important message I learned is that you really have to use the information responsibly, you are making information easier to access, therefor spammers are going to love you. Also you don't own the information, so be sure you don't use it in a way which contravenes the original publisher wishes.

Glenn also went on to discuss creating an API through microformats. Whilst I agree with him in principle (and you really do get some benefits from URL rewriting), I think I will take a little more convincing that the web sites I design would ever benefit from this - I would always provide a web service if somebody need to get data from me. However I am open to be persuaded otherwise, and it was a very interesting concept!

I loved this quote used in the lecture:

But that's the beauty of it! Something I'm calling "oblivious development". I've
always looked at microformats as "planting seeds"that later grow into things you
never even thought of.

Dan Cederholm, Cork’d

Oblivious development is a fantastic way to describe microformats. You initially have very little idea how somebody else is going to use this data, but that doesn't matter. What matters is you have made your data usable!

Overall I chose to attend this lecture instead of Scott Guthrie's first lecture of the day, and I am very glad I did. I learned a lot about microformats during the lecture (and learned a bit more over a pint in the bar afterwards!)

Further Reading:
Take a peak at the following sites for more info about Microformats:

And here are some sites which use microformats

[Site list taken from Glenns presentation]

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