the term microformat and encouraging people to play (was Re: [uf-discuss] Comments from IBM/Lotus rep about Microformats)

Tantek Ç elik tantek at
Tue Dec 12 09:17:22 PST 2006

On 12/11/06 10:20 PM, "Håkon Wium Lie" <howcome at> wrote:

Thanks for chiming in Håkon - your opinion is always appreciated.

> Also sprach Mike Schinkel:
>>> I'm not quite sure what you mean here.  Is there a difference
>>> between lowercase microformats and uppercase microformats?
>> lowercase microformats = unofficial semantic markup embedded in HTML
>> uppercase microformats = "Official" Microformat
> This makes sense to me. Preventing people from using the term
> "microformat" for their own set of class names is an uphill battle;

It is perhaps, but it is quite similar to the battle that W3C has fought
with use of the term "HTML", which, as we both know, was subverted by
various vendors etc. during the Browser Wars of the 1990s to mean *their*
variant of HTML.

Through the hard work of W3C, and advocate organizations like the Web
Standards Project (WaSP), that subversion was largely successfully fought
and overcome, and popular notion accepts that HTML is what W3C has defines
it to be (HTML 4.01, XHTML 1.0).

Just as with that uphill battle which was eventually won (except for a few
web designers stuck in 1990s-think who think HTML means "what works in IE",
ahem, *which* IE? :), it is worth fighting this battle to ensure that
microformats keeps its meaning above and beyond "semantic (X)HTML".

(Sidenote: ironically, W3C squandered this long fought for victory of what
is HTML with the sadness that is XHTML 2.0 which itself inspired/forced the
creation of WHATWG and HTML5 efforts, as well as microformats, but that's
another thread that an entire other mailing list is handling as you and I
both know.)

> the term "microformat" is simply too attractive.

It's interesting, because I couldn't have predicted this.  There was an even
earlier term "microcontent" which hinted at some of the same use cases,
which however, unfortunately didn't have a precise definition (nor any
definition really) that anyone used consistently (everyone used it to mean
their pet thing), and thus because its meaning was never clear, its usage
became quite diluted and worthless.

One of the reasons that I explicitly set about documenting the microformats
principles and process very early on in the evolution of microformats was to
avoid what happened with "microcontent".  This isn't finished.

We must continue to insist on a reasonably precise meaningful definition or
else the concept itself will become meaningless (or perhaps worse, subverted
by major vendors (though the names might be different this time around) as
was attempted with HTML).

> Besides, people
> should be encouraged to play.

Agreed - with some clear criticisms when they play for the wrong reasons, or
in a bad way.

For example there are people who invent their own "microformats" (as they
incorrectly call them) who can't even be bothered to publish valid XHTML.

If you cannot follow existing standards, how can you possibly expect
*anyone* to follow yours?

There are also people that are under the mistaken assumption that a
microformat they create is for their personal use.  I'm not naming names.

The point of a standard format is interoperability *between* *different*
parties.  I'll take that a step further and say that if at least *two* other
people (whom you are unrelated to etc.) are not interested in sharing
information with each other (i.e. not just you) via your "microformat"
proposal besides you, then stop - you have no microformat.

Just document (i.e. blog) your own personal use of semantic (X)HTML in the
hopes that if someone comes along later and wants to do something similar,
they *may* mimic your work.

> Most private sets will quickly die a
> natural death and do no harm. Those who survive in the wild deserve
> the capital M.

See previous email from me on "microformats vs. semantic XHTML" first.

I strongly encourage people to experiment and document their uses of
semantic XHTML.  In fact, if you read popular modern web designer blogs,
they have been doing this (not just *talking* about it) for *years*. [1]

If you want to participate in helping *others* interoperate (not just
yourself) and believe you have found a common publishing behavior on the web
that can benefit from greater interoperability, then by all means, follow
the microformats principles and process and develop a microformat to do so.

And those of you that *do* wish to develop microformats, I strongly
recommend you subscribe to and read popular modern web designer blogs, as
they are the ones who have the most experience with semantic XHTML (far more
than anyone in the XML/RDF communities), and they are who you should be
reading to understand where microformats came from and how to improve the
fidelity of your web publishing in general. [1]



[1] In no particular order here are a few (and apologies in advance to those
I know I am forgetting this early Tuesday morning with this hastily created
list mostly off the top of my mind, and make sure your site validates ;)

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