Tag Archives: web standards

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The power of microformats

Considering a Descent A few months ago I attended a really interesting talk by Eric Meyer where he touched on the use of microformats.  You might know Eric from his excellent O’Reilly Press CSS books.

What are microformats?  Before giving an example, I’ll give a little context.  When Tim Berners-Lee created the web, he tried to make HTML simple, flexible, and meaningful.  He succeeded on the first two counts but the third was quickly left by the wayside – many designers didn’t care what a particular tag meant, so long as it could be used for page layout.  The use of tables to arrange graphic elements instead of holding tabular data is a perfect example.

So Berners-Lee has been talking for years about the next step – the semantic web.  In the semantic web, tags are used to say what a particular piece of content is, with all styling done with stylesheets.  There is, of course, more to the semantic web than just separating content and presentation, after all you can work that way with HTML and CSS now.  One other key component is the web of trust, where people and web sites are able to describe relationships to each other so that search engines can help you find trustworthy content automatically.

Unfortunately, the semantic web has not really taken off.  There have been lots of meetings and XML schemas but it’s all too complicated, the process is too bureaucratic, and everything is being designed from the top down.

This is where microformats come in.  Let’s say you have a blog and you’ve tagged all your articles.  You’d like to let search engines and aggregators like Technorati know what your tags are.  But HTML doesn’t have anything like this:

<tag>semantic web<tag>

So what do you do?  Simple, use the rel-tag microformat:

<a href=”http://example.com/tag/semantic+web” rel=”tag”>semantic web</a>

The microformat makes use of existing html tags and attributes and just follows simple conventions.  But now that this little bit of meaning can be interpreted by spiders and other programs, we’ve actually added a pretty powerful bit of functionality to the web.

Most blog software, including WordPress, includes does microformatting for you.  If install my tag cloud plugin Altocumulous, and view source, you can see for yourself.

For intranet purposes, the hCard and hCalendar microformats look promising.  Take a look at microformats.org to see why I think so.  I’ll write more on it later.

The iPhone, Google Maps for Mobile, and e911 – where is the disconnect?

DSCN0592Google Maps for Mobile will soon include a GPS-like ability to find your current location.  A little while ago Gizmondo wrote about an iPhone hack that allows almost, but not quite GPS functionality.  The hack itself sounds a lot like the way phase II of the wireless E911 service works, and my guess is that Google Maps is fairly similar.

If you take a look at this map, you can see than many states have > 80% deployment.  On the FCC site you can find reports of the e911 deployments completed by cell phone companies.  Any company that doesn’t have over 95% of their customers with E911 capable handsets is currently getting fined.  So it’s a shame that Google and random iPhone hackers have to reimplement all this.

I’ve never worked on E911 support (or anything cellular, for that matter), but it seems to me there is an incredible opportunity here.  One of the great things about the iPhone is that it drives adoption of data plans.  How about including psuedo-GPS capability in nearly every phone as soon as you sign up for a data plan?  That would be a huge incentive.

Here’s an even more radical idea:  why not come up with a standard way to communicate presence and location data so users can do things like local search?  It might take use years and millions of dollars to develop proprietary systems to do this, but if we use an open standard perhaps this could be adopted as quickly as things like the web and email.

Even better, operating under an open standard will allow geeks in garages all over the world to develop new social software systems we can’t even dream of.

Video Presentation on Tagging and Folksonomies

Here’s the video of a presentation I gave at the Cleveland Web Standards Association last month (at the time of this posting the website is a little bare, check out the Meetup page for more details).

In this video I talk about the same topic as myTagging and Folksonomy article in the ASIST Bulletin. What are the different kinds of uses for social tagging and folksonomies and what are users’ motivations for tagging?

Jason Morrison – Tagging Systems & Folksonomies from Cleveland Web Standards on Vimeo.

I’m pretty happy to have been the next presenter after Eric Meyer. In this month’s meeting Brad Colbow talked about CSS positioning.What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below.