How Microformats Apply to Non-Ubiquitous Content

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Posted on January 03, 2007 8:49 AM in Web Development
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

If you've been following microformats at all, you've doubtless foreseen the huge potential they offer in terms of standardization and application interoperability.

Several months ago I subscribed to the web feed at Alex Faaborg's blog (he's a User Experience Designer at Mozilla) after Asa Dotzler linked to him (I'm pretty sure), mostly out of curiosity. Last month, as you've probably read about at this point, Alex posted a series on microformats that was very informative. Even though I had been following microformats here and there via sources like SimpleBits, it wasn't until I started reading Alex Faaborg's coverage on the topic that I fully started to appreciate what microformats really mean to the future of data, applications and the web.

It's especially exciting to see that Firefox will be leading the charge in terms of adding support for microformats early on. As noted elsewhere, this will allow for web-to-application integration at a level we have not yet seen. The simple ability to click on a date, event or scheduled TV show and immediately be able to add it to Google Calendar without the need for a whole bunch of mouse clicks and text entry has me salivating.

While it may be a little early to start thinking about the handling of less- or non-ubiquitous content that utilizes microformats, it certainly isn't irrelevant. The truth of the matter is, microformats have a place among any and all data, which to me is the reason they hold so much potential. Take a look at what they've done for wine reviews, for example. That isn't something you're going to see integrated into Firefox any time soon (unless it's via an extension), but it still means something to a lot of people out there. All it would take is the creation of another web or desktop application external to Cork'd to store wine reviews, or even allow for rating of them (think Digg's thumbs-up system) to extend the capabilities of the data.

For another example, consider a music library management tool like the Performance Library Database, an application I hold very near and dear to my heart. One of the things my colleagues and I envisioned doing in the future was moving the PLD toward using a global database of music that would grow as each user added information on a new piece (of sheet music) to their library's contents. This would of course allow for us to suggest pieces already entered in other users' libraries when new users started to enter information into theirs, thus reducing the amount of time it takes to enter piece information into the database (far-and-away the biggest hurdle when moving a library to the PLD). However, what it would not allow us to do is to provide that information to applications outside of the PLD in a standard way, nor would it allow us to accept piece information from outside the PLD. That, my friends, is where microformats come in.

One could very easily apply semantic markup to information commonly attributed to a piece of music (e.g. composer, title, arranger, publisher, etc.), utilizing already established design patterns, of course, and then publish the markup. By advocating the use of such a microformat with organizations like the Sheet Music Consortium and the International Mozart Foundation, music librarians and conductors everywhere would potentially have one-click access to adding piece information to the music library management tool of their choice. One can probably imagine several other uses as well.

So I've gone and applied the use of microformats to a type of data only relevant to a particular niche of web/application users. Put your mind to it and I bet you can do the same. It's not hard. I'm really hoping microformats see a real surge in usage and popularity in 2007. I'm excited at the thought of looking back this time of year next year and reflecting on a further-evolved web.


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