variations on hCard (was: Misc (was: [uf-discuss] Disambiguation Conventions? (was CommentsfromIBM/Lotus rep about Microformats)))

Andy Mabbett andy at
Thu Dec 14 11:23:48 PST 2006

In message <011901c71f6d$03731b00$0201a8c0 at andrieuhome>, Joe Andrieu
<joe at> writes

>> >we have no way to
>> let parsers
>> >know that the "new" hCards may not be people, companies, or
>> >organizations, but instead may also be places.
>> This interests me. It's not apparent from the 'wiki' that
>> that's a more recent development. Please can you site links
>> for the relevant discussion?
>Well, it is actually more convoluted than that.

[big snip]

Thank you for a remarkably comprehensive answer.

>The unique fact is that
> is the only entity in the entire chain of authorship, from CCIT to
>Versit to IETF to change the spec from being about people to being
>about /more/ than people. Other changes were about adding features to
>extend what you could say about people.  We just up and redefined the
>core semantic.

And yet when people propose extensions to hCard (such as Date of Death),
we're told that mapping to vCard prevents such (which itself is a
fallacy: for example, Date of Death could be ignored by parsers, when
converting hCard to vcard).

>the description of hCard on the wiki now extends that to companies,
>organizations, and even locations.
>This is a pretty significant loss of semantic specificity. While a
>human can disambiguate between hCards for places and hCards for people,
>a /machine/ would have a very hard time of it.

I have a similar example. I asked, a while ago, about the possibility of
a uF to mark up "What's New" pages, and was advised to use hAtom.
Indeed, people were very kind and helpful in assisting me in doing so,
and I now have a What's New page:


which is, usefully, available as a feed.

Semantically, though, there's nothing to tell parsers that the page
describes updates to the website which it represents; in fact, some just
see it as a blog.

Firstly, this is an example of the "blog-like behaviour" mindset I
referred to in a post a few minutes ago.

Secondly (and this didn't cause me any great problem), in order to add
hAtom to the page, I had to first add a vCard listing the author, which
meant making the "author" (sic, I gave organisational-, not personal-)
details visible on the page. So that's evidence of a microformat
requiring me to change my publishing behaviour; and again evidence of a
"blog-like behaviour" mindset.

>  The entire point of the semantic web is to make it easy^H^H^H^H
>/possible/ for machines to make sense of the information that's out
>there.  Now, when a spider finds an hCard, it can't tell if it is a
>person, company, organization, or place. That sucks.

I hadn't thought of that previously, but it's true; and it does.

Solutions could be (or, given that the horse has bolted, perhaps "could
have been") a secondary class

        <div class="vcard person">
        <div class="vcard organisation">
        <div class="vcard place">

making separate uFs, with (near-)identical field sets:


or having separate mandatory, and mutually exclusive, fields for each

        n       - a person
        n-org   - an organisation's name
        n-place - a place-name

p*rsers could then map all these to "n" for the purpose of allowing
users to add them to their address book programmes.

>It would be much more useful if hCards could actually be expected to be
>people!  Imagine that. Then machines might be able to do something
>useful with this class of entities it discovered while cruising around.
>But that route is lost to us.

Some form of extension, such as I suggest, could be added in future -
though "legacy" hCards would still be found, of course.

>Standards aren't meant to "evolve".  The are revised. Updated. Changed.
>Explicitly. Intentionally. And with clear versioning. The nature of a
>standard is to be /standard/ across contexts, especially time.


>I don't intend this email as an attack on anyone. I do mean it as a
>flag for problems that many in the community have dismissed as

Again, thank you. I do hope that nobody will be so foolish as to
consider your comments as "damage", "pain" or "noise".

Andy Mabbett
            *  Say "NO!" to compulsory ID Cards:  <>
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