[uf-discuss] Some (newbie) questions on microformats

Scott Reynen scott at randomchaos.com
Thu Jan 25 19:12:15 PST 2007

On Jan 25, 2007, at 3:01 PM, stephen mulcahy wrote:

> I've read a few introductory articles and faqs but still have some
> questions about how microformats fit together and work. When I first
> came across microformats I had the (mistaken) impression that they  
> were
> a way for anyone to arbitrarily mark-up their data. After some more
> reading and a little contempltation I come to the (obvious)
> understanding that that couldn't really work - I mean, what good is a
> formatting your data in a format that only you can understand (I guess
> it might make some sense for large organisations but apart from  
> that ...)?

Homebrewed semantics aren't nearly as useful as microformats, but  
they do have some value.  When I'm trying to make use of data on  
another site, and I look at their source and see it has description  
markup, that makes my job easier, and makes the web better.   
Microformats are just the logical next step.

> So my current understanding of microformats is that they are a new
> approach to adding meaning to the web by (lightly) tagging existing
> content (in XHTML) to add a semantic dimension to documents. The  
> barrier
> to entry is pretty low because in a little of cases you can tag your
> existing content by simply adding some class attributes to your
> document, right?

Basically, yes.

> This contrasts with the semantic web where you need to
> take your data in its existing formats and create RDF from it.


> In terms of standards - is
> http://microformats.org/wiki/Main_Page#Specifications a definitive  
> list
> of the microformats in use?

Not exactly.  Many of the drafts are in use.  Many of the exploratory  
discussions are even in use.  Those under "specifications" are in use  
widely enough and/or long enough to be considered relatively stable.   
But it's really more of a spectrum.

> If someone wants to introduce a new one is
> the approach described in -
> http://microformats.org/wiki/faq#Q:_When_should_I_use_a_microformat. 
> 3F_What_are_they_for.3F.22
> the best way to approach things?

That depends on what you mean by "introduce a new one."  If you mean  
newly introduce an existing microformat to your markup, yes.  If you  
mean to propose a new microformat, you should look at the process.

> I guess in most cases this info is already on manufacturers websites,
> but its certainly not amenable to scraping and parsing semantically  
> (and
> maybe its not in the interests of the manfacturers to provide the
> information in a format that lets me easily compare them to other
> manufacturers) but it strikes me that if they did .. it would be  
> really,
> really easy for me to go to all the major manufacturers websites, suck
> them their microformatted data and then analyse it off line - I see
> something like an openoffice datapilot table (microsoft excel pivot
> table) where I can click various filters to match my criteria above  
> and
> sort the output according to something like price and voila, my  
> choices
> are obvious - is there a microformat that lends itself to this sort of
> thing already.
> Is this the kind of scenario that microformats could meet or am I way
> off of the mark?

See hProduct and hListing:


These have been in progress for a while, and if you're interested in  
this area, I'd encourage you to review the process, look at what's  
missing in the wiki, and try to move this forward to a microformat  
that will suit your needs.

> I guess even if manufacturers didn't want to
> participate in this, there are lots of sites out there that review
> laptops - if you could get them to sign-up to this the microformatted
> information would become available quickly (all it would take is one
> person to review a laptop).

Right, adoption is the hard part.  It helps to get interested parties  
involved in the discussion early.


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