Seven Year Itch: What’s next for microformats

7 years ago Kevin Marks and I presented “real world semantics” in an after-hours open sign-up slot at O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology (ETech) conference and first publicly introduced “microformats” to the world.

To put it in perspective, that very same ETech saw the launch of Flickr, which just celebrated its 7th birthday yesterday. Happy Birthday Flickr!

Since then we’ve had many ups and downs in microformats, learned many hard lessons in community management, and seen both billions of pages add microformats, as well as the adoption of new microformats like hRecipe, along with search engine support and widespread adoption by the SEO crowd (certainly quite a measure of having “made it”).

We’ve seen the emergence of competing syntax standards like RDFa and microdata, both of which have sought to solve general purpose problems beyond the common use cases addressed by microformats. We’ve also seen the rise of proprietary non-standard (AKA “snowflake”) APIs, and Facebook’s standards-based Open Graph Protocol (OGP).

From a cultural perspective, the launch of microformats.org in 2005 inspired and influenced the creation of numerous additional independent community-based standards efforts outside traditional organizations like W3C and IETF. From OAuth (which Twitter and others now depend on) to OEmbed, from the HTML Design Principles (many of which echoed microformats principles), to perhaps most recently ActivityStreams, and their real-world pragmatic microformats-process-like approach to introducing new object types and verbs.

Despite all these successes, there are still some longstanding issues affecting microformats, both the formats themselves overall, and the community. Upon reflecting on the past 7 years as well as learning from what’s worked (and not) in other open standards and open source organizations (W3C, IETF, Mozilla, WHATWG) it’s clear to me that these community and cross-format issues are what need to be addressed for microformats to continue advancing.

I’m not going to attempt to explore all the issues in a single blog post. Suffice it to say there are concrete issues around specification stages, simplifying microformats (use of, parsing, extending), and overall community participation models that need attention.

One aspect of microformats that has stood the test of time is the set of microformats principles. The first principle encourages us to solve a specific problem. That principle applies to processes as well as formats and as such the path forward is to solve specific, real world overall microformats problems, one at a time.

I’ve chosen document stages as the first such specific overall problem to solve, documented a real-world problem statement, and begun brainstorming more precise definitions for “draft”, “specification”, and a new one, “standard”. These definitions will update, expand, and clarify the microformats process and what we mean by microformats specifications. If you’re curious, you can take a look at the brainstorming in progress.

These new document stages are just one of many updates to microformats that we are working on and will be introducing and implementing in the coming months. Stay tuned: join the IRC channel, mailing lists, and follow @microformats on Twitter.

Mark your calendars: in just over a month’s time, myself and fellow admins Frances Berriman (Nature Publishing Group) and Ben Ward (Twitter), as well as Paul Tarjan (Facebook) will present a panel at SXSW Interactive 2011 on “The Future of Microformats where a lot of this and more will be discussed.

Join us and help shape the future.

2 Responses to “Seven Year Itch: What’s next for microformats”

  1. Cogito :

    It’s certainly good to see you still going strong, never losing steam. :) Keep up the awesome work!

    - Tom

    February 12th, 2011 at 5:35 am

  2. Beatrice :

    Bless you for making the effort to describe the terminlogy towards the learners!

    February 13th, 2011 at 1:32 pm