Last week the microformats.org community celebrated its 7th birthday at a gathering hosted by Mozilla in San Francisco and recognized accomplishments, challenges, and opportunities.
Humans First: Admin Emeriti & New Admins
The microformats tagline “humans first, machines second” forms the basis of many of our principles, and in that regard, we’d like to recognize a few people and thank them for their years of volunteer service as community admins:
- Dan Cederholm (co-founder)
- Ryan King (co-founder)
- Robert Bachmann
- Dimitri Glazkov
- Drew McLellan
- Scott Reynen
They’ve each been essential positive community contributors and guides over the years, and as admin emeriti are always welcome back should they decided to become admins again.
We’re also pleased to announce two new community admins:
Both have similarly been consistent positive contributors to microformats for years, and we’re very happy they’ve stepped up as community admins.
Challenges & Opportunities
During microformats.org’s first seven years, we’ve seen many other attempts to promote structured data on the web. Some have since disappeared or been retired, one never got past an initial blog post, a couple have gained traction, and couple were just launched in the past two weeks:
- 2005-2009(?): StructuredBlogging
- 2005-2011: Google Base schema
- 2007-2011(?): Google Data API/Elements
- 2009-2009(?): Yahoo et al CommonTag.org
- 2010-2012+ Facebook OGP meta tags
- 2011-2012+ Google/MS/Y! Schema.org
- 2012-2012+ Twitter Cards meta tags
- 2012-2012+ OpenMetadata.org
Each of these is a signal that there are a few people (or a company) who want to do something with structured data on the web better than what they thought was already out there.
We can view each of these as a set of challenges and questions:
- What problems were these created to solve?
- Are they solving similar, overlapping, or different problems than microformats?
- Did their creators know about microformats?
- Did they try using microformats?
- Are they open efforts (or at least trying to be open), or are they vendor-specific?
We can also view each of these as feedback, whether intended or not, and opportunities to improve microformats. Open source teaches us that great ideas come from everywhere, thus we should analyze and document other efforts, seeking to answer the above questions.
If these alternative efforts are solving the same or similar problems as microformats, how can we improve microformats to meet their needs with established open standards?
If they’re addressing different problems, are those problems that microformats should be expanded to solve?
And if they’re open efforts, how can we best collaborate and produce even better solutions together?
microformats ~70% structured data domains
Even after seven years and the emergence of various alternatives, according to the Web Data Commons as of 2012, microformats still have the greatest adoption across different websites for publishing structured data in HTML:
Our continuing success is no indication that we should rest.
We should document the alternatives as they emerge, do our best to answer the questions posed, and reach out to other communities to find areas of overlap to collaborate. With greater collaboration comes greater interoperability.
As we continue to evolve and expand microformats, we should keep in mind the principles and values that brought us here. Here are a few of the core values that still distinguish microformats as a technology, effort, and community:
Humans first (machines second). microformats are designed primarily for humans, and primarily for the greatest number of humans, whether authoring, or representing (e.g. the microformats community spearheaded and got the most inclusive “gender” property ever designed into the vCard 4 (RFC 6350) – which hCard 1.1 and 2 uses).
Mozilla front end developer / UX engineer Gordon Brander recently remarked to me, “microformats work within existing web designer/developer workflow, which makes them easy and convenient. Other solutions require learning new attributes, which is enough of a barrier to just not bother.”
When I related this to Sam Weinig of the Safari team, he made an astute observation and comparison: “essentially what you’re saying is that bolt-on solutions, even just attributes, whether for accessibility like ‘longdesc’, or for semantics like RDFa/microdata, just don’t work as well.”
Very openly licensed standards. By virtue of being Creative Commons licensed from the start, and public domain / CC0 compatible since late 2007, microformats are the most openly available standards developed world-wide. CC0 provides the maximum freedom to re-use, publish, and if you’ve got a better idea, fork, experiment, and submit suggestions. Just like open source.
This openness has shown to be particularly effective on the microformats wiki, which has 17 different translations in progress.
These independent translators from around the world, who by virtue of committing their work to the public domain / CC0, perhaps know that not only are they sharing their work, but that the work they do cannot be taken from them. Once placed into the public domain, their work remains there, always reusable at any point in the future, by anyone.
Contrast this with any form of writing/creating that is owned. If it’s owned it can be bought, and thus taken away from you. While that’s a perfectly reasonable trade to make for an income, for standards and longevity, it’s important that our work remain maximally public, as an open resource for generations to come.
And finally, to date, no other standards organization has chosen to put all their research, examples, specifications etc. in the public domain / CC0. We invite every open standards organization to do so.
Open spec history and editing.
Two key distinguishing factors that contribute to our community openness are aspects of microformats specs:
specs with open revision history – every microformats specification has an open revision history dating back to the launch of microformats.org seven years ago.
An open revision history provides a level of transparency, accountability, and provenance second to none. In comparison, the other efforts listed above lack any kind of open revision history, e.g. clearly showing date-time, who edited, and how much changed in each spec. The microformats wiki revision histories are also easily browsable and delta-changes-viewable, far more usable/accessible than web views on revision control systems (e.g. W3C’s cvs and hg repositories).
specs with edit buttons – also unprecedented and unmatched, every microformats specification is on a wiki page, editable by any account holder, should they find typos or other obvious errata / minor edits (spec editors handle larger spec edits, though anyone may copy a spec and demonstrate major edits for consideration in a copy).
The community value of allowing such open editing cannot be understated. Many longtime contributors started interacting with the microformats community by jumping in and making minor edits or suggestions on the wiki (some, like Brian Suda, first participated by contributing edits to the original hCard specification, though we quickly followed up on IRC).
Latest in microformats
The past year has seen several interesting and useful developments in and related to microformats.
HTML5 enhanced time and data elements
In November 2011 there was a heated discussion in the W3C HTML WG and WHATWG about the HTML5
<time> element. It was first dropped, and then thanks to a lot of research contributions (from many in the microformats community) and persistence, not only was
<time> saved but also enhanced in numerous ways useful for microformats. As such, every current use of anything date or time related (including durations) in microformats should use the HTML5
<time> element. For hCard and hCalendar, if you depend on H2VX for providing “add to address book” and “add to calendar” features, use “dev.h2vx.com” URLs which have support for HTML5 semantic elements, and follow @h2vx on Twitter for updates.
In addition, HTML5 now also has a new
<data> element, for other types of data where the human representation is not easily/unambiguously machine-readable, or just uses a different format, e.g. geo latitude/longitude coordinates. The HTML5
<data> element is a nice upgrade from the Value Class Pattern ‘value-title’ feature we developed in microformats a few years ago.
Media Temple Server Hosting
For the first six years, the microformats.org server was sponsored by Commercenet, for which we’re very thankful. And for the past year Rohit Khare graciously supported our server hosting.
However from an infrastructure viewpoint, the server has been on the same virtual hosting, and in some cases original software, since launch in 2005.
We’re very happy to announce that Media Temple is providing new state of the art hosting for microformats.org. After working several hours over a few weekends, we transitioned everything* to the new server and flipped the DNS switches without any downtime. The new server is noticeably faster and more responsive, which has made wiki-editing even more seamless.
Microformats 2 – Start Publishing And Parsing
microformats 2 has been in development for the past couple of years, incorporating lessons learned from many years of using microformats in the real world as well as experience with various other semantic HTML data markup technologies (e.g. microdata, RDFa). It’s stabilized and ready for trying out in real world experiments, both in pages on the web, and the parser implementations.
There are already several examples in the wild publishing microformats 2 versions of hCard and hCalendar, including this very blog post. At least two parsers are in development as well, one in Ruby, and one in JS.
The time has come: if you write a tool that publishes or parses microformats, update it to support:
Test your parsers with both the examples in the spec and the ever growing list of microformats 2 supporting sites.
Stay involved with IRC, wiki, and Twitter
While our blog and mailing lists were used a lot in early days, IRC and Twitter seem to have become the first place many ask questions about microformats, and thus we’ve adapted and are responding accordingly.
- Twitter: @microformats and #microformats
- IRC: #microformats on Freenode. IRC in particular has become the place for discussing new microformats developments (like microformats 2), or detailed microformats issues.
Join us and start using microformats 2 today. If you have any questions about microformats 2, whether how to use, publish, or parse, please feel free to ask on the IRC channel.