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Gavin Greig [userpic]

Microformats

September 16th, 2006 (09:32 pm)
current location: KY16 8SX

I've restructured my preceding journal entry, an account of a visit to the Bell Pettigrew Museum, as an . hReview is a  that is appropriate for reviews, and (with very slight modifications) I was able to use an online tool to make the changes: the hReview creator.

It will be interesting to see whether anything comes of microformats. They're proposed standards for structuring common information in X-HTML so that it's not just human-readable but, to a reasonable degree, machine-readable too. That is, they're intended as an unofficial move towards a "", an idea that began with , the originator of HTML. The idea is that enough formally structured information is embedded in the HTML for software to be able to have a basic understanding of what the page content is about.

Microformats are quite clever in that they don't need any extension or modification to existing HTML standards before they can be used. They take advantage of aspects of X-HTML that are already fairly well-defined, but maybe not always well-known, and formalise their use in a way that doesn't interfere with the normal uses that people put X-HTML to.

Of course, they need buy-in from web content authors in order to become truly useful, and there's always the possibility that they'll become subject to misuse to the point where the benefit of using them goes into decline (as has happened to ). However, at this stage it seems like they're potentially quite a Good Thing, and so I thought I'd try starting to use them.

In order to succeed with every-day users, something as potentially complex as a microformat needs some sort of authoring tools that make it really easy to follow the correct structure.

Luckily, such tools are beginning to appear, although they've a way to go before they become anything like universal. I've already mentioned the hReview creator. I also used the hCard creator to author my personal information contained within the review, and finally I've used the link editing functionality in Windows Live Writer to mark some of the links in this article as being (links that go to a page that defines a tag; a slight "gotcha" is that the tag name must be the last part of the link URL, not necessarily the visible text of the link, though on the whole it makes sense for both to agree).

I found the tools fairly easy to use, although I did have to do a bit of copying and pasting between forms and applications to get everything where I wanted it, and had to make some very small modifications to the code produced by the hReview creator (why on earth did it want to prevent my text from wrapping as a default?). However, I gained some immediate benefits too; for example, the hReview format includes a 1-to-5 star rating, which I would otherwise never have looked up the characters for, and which encourages me to consider making a rating on a numerical scale instead of writing my usual waffly assessment.

I would like microformats to succeed. I think the first step to having that happen is for authoring of microformats to be made easy, and there's a little way to go on that. However, if that happens, then more people will use them, and search engines can take them into account when returning search results. Let's just hope they don't fall prey too easily to the spam-mongers.