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Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

Microformats, a year and a half on...

I first noticed Microformats after John Oxton posted a blog entry about them almost two years ago. My initial reaction was as follows:

I have to agree, I’ve not understood the fuss because I’ve not… well, understood ‘it’.

Designed for humans first and machines second, microformats are a set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards.

– well OK, so what does that tell me? That Microformats are supposed to be simple to use and understand? Doesn’t tell me what they are though, or why I’d need one, or what the benefits of having them are. If you read the whole ‘about microformats’ page, it still doesn’t tell you why you would use them, or what they’re actually for. The site tells me lots about Microformats, without ever seeming to explain the point.

Matt Wilcox

Nearly two years on, and how has the Microformat agenda been improved? In short - it hasn’t. That same ‘explanation’ is sat there on the homepage. The Wiki still manages to wrap a very simple concept in so much technical jargon as to make it almost impenetrable for anyone not already familiar with Microformats to understand. I’m not the only one to be disappointed that this is still the state of affairs, and Warpspire’s recent Microformats article points out yet more problems.

It’s not like I’m unfamiliar with Microformats - I’ve been using them for the last year and a half or more. But, I still fail to see the point - despite people such as Simon Collison touting the business benefits of Microformats. Simon says that simply demonstrating what they do is far better than talking - but how? I still do not know of any technology that actually leverages the data encapsulated in a Microformat. Despite knowing what they are, I still have no idea how to use one once it’s coded up and sitting on a HTML page.

I think Microformats are a great concept, but the current implementation, documentation, and Microformat leveraging services and applications leave an awful lot to be desired. If we are having a hard time educating knowledgeable designers who are already familiar with modern coding practices, and having trouble getting those people excited, and having trouble doing anything with a Microformat once it’s there on a page - what chance do we have of Microformats filtering down into general acceptance and usefulness? It’s been nearly two years now, why is all of that still an issue?

I still use Microformats, in the hope that something will come along and do something useful with them, but I’m starting to wonder how long that’s going to take.

So what is a Microformat

For anyone still confused: A microformat is nothing more than a ’standard’ way of marking-up data with HTML. It’s just HTML, the same HTML you’ve always used - but using it in a certain way. So, for example, if you were to write someone’s postal address you could put it in a Microformat - meaning you’d wrap it in an <address class="vcard"> tag. You’d then wrap each part of the address (like the postal-code) in it’s own <span> with an appropriate class value (in this case class="postal-code")

That’s all a Microformat is. The point of it is that some future application will be able to extract that data easily.


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  1. Philip Roche posted 2 days, 1hrs, 4mins after the entry and said:

    A nice article Matt, and you've explained them well.

    I too wonder why the hell there was such hype about the whole microformats thing. I mean, I understand that it's getting us closer to a semantic web but I need to see some fruit to my labour. I agree that there's nothing out there that really uses these microformats.

    Whoop di doo, I've got some class attributes on my address tag. Right now, it's of no use to anyone.

    Saying that, I will still use them when I can and maybe just maybe we'll get off our asses and write something that uses them.

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