Microformats: added to my TWTOD

Posted on December 5, 2007

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I spend a lot of my time talking and living tech. Actually, I spend *most* of my time talking and living tech…and yet I’m not in any way a hardcore techy: a fact that often amuses or bemuses those people around me. I don’t really understand the detail behind TCP/IP, I only know the basic principles behind RDF, I’m not sure I really care too much about Linux and I am fearful of my life when reading even the first few lines of anything OpenSourcey.

This makes me quite dangerous. I geddit enough to say things like “wouldn’t it be cool if…” but not enough to understand the (what I see as) mindblowingly dull history there seems to be behind every single standard, technology, approach. This doesn’t in any way make me immune to tech-lust, you understand, it’s just that I like to understand what a technology does for users before getting too much into the tech itself.

Anyway. This post was supposed to be about something else and I’ve gone off on a rant again…

Ah yes. I’ve been thinking and playing with microformats again. The more I play, the more I think they’re immensely cool, and the less I listen to the noise of the Hardcore Semantic Webbers, who claim (for reasons I don’t really understand) that microformats (and in fact anything top-down) are in some way “cheating”.

Microformats tick everything in my TWTOD (“technologies worth the time of day”) checklist:

1. Does it do something useful or add value to the user experience?
2. Can it be implemented quickly?
3. Is it easy to understand?
4. It is easy (no, REALLY) for a user to…USE?
5. Do people other than geeks get value out of it?

Here’s the elevator pitch about what microformats are and why they are cool: You add custom tags around various bits of your content. Non-human users of your site (computers, probably..) will then know that the thing you’ve marked as a “telephone number” is actually a telephone number and not another 11-digit thingy, or that a particular segment of text is referring to an address or an event. Human users to your site don’t see any different, unless they’ve got something like the Operator plugin in which case they get the option to do interesting things.

If you’re anything like me you’ll love an example from the user perspective, so here it is. I’ve already installed the Operator plugin, by the way (a downside in the TWTOD equation, but a minor one, particularly if browsers start to become more microformat-centric)

1. I browse to a particular event on a microformat supporting site – Upcoming.org in this example

xmas

2. My Operator plugin lights up telling me there are microformats on the page (a “normal” user wouldn’t notice a thing..)

operator

Note that here they’ve embedded lots of stuff: clicking on the “addresses” dropdown gives me the option of linking straight through to a google or yahoo map of the event location, clicking “contacts” lets me add to my Outlook contact list.

3. In this case though, I choose “events” and then “Export Event” to add the event to my Outlook calendar:

appointment

Now how cool is that? Semantic Webby functionality with minimal effort from the site owner. And real gains in functionality for the end user.

Any reason why not do this? None that I can think of…

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Posted in: museum, tagging, web2.0