[uf-discuss] Species microformat process

Benjamin West bewest at gmail.com
Tue Jan 30 09:34:06 PST 2007

On 1/30/07, Charles Roper <charles.roper at gmail.com> wrote:
> I'm very interested in the Species microformat, but the process seems
> to have stalled and I just wanted to poll opinion here as to why that
> might be. Is it due to a lack of demand?

Charles, I don't know about demand, but I do know that many people
have stepped up to participate in gathering research and analysis for
species.  Many of them have also been driven away.  To be honest, the
use case for the species microformat is a little bit weak.  It could
be that if there is a lack of demand, it is due to the weak use case
and the gap between the research and the proposal.  (The use case
essentially describes a hyperlinking behaviour that is already present
and used on many sites.) This is just my own opinion though.

> It seems that the successful
> microformats have been developed, in the main, by web designers and
> developers for web designers and developers. Could it be that web
> designers and developers of the microformats community do not perceive
> the value of a species microformat in the same way that they can see
> the value of, say, hCard, hReview, XFN, etc. The more successful
> microformats seem to be riding on the back of the "social web"
> zeitgeist, with many (most?) being used in this kind of context. I
> don't see species as being of particular interest to the bloggers and
> the other social-networking, mashup-making, digerati of current times.
> Is appealing to this demographic the key in getting a microformat
> developed? I'd appreciate the view of people in this community.

If I think I know what you mean here, I disagree a bit.  Who, what,
when, how, where are all answered by these microformats.  They are
extremely common, and are probably the first data types to be
represented by any new technology.  For example: how old is the
calendar compared to taxonomy? hcard describes "who", xfn describes
"how are they related", hcalendar describes "when".... Again, this is
my own opinion, and I don't have any evidence.

> I also wanted to ask about the fundamental microformat principle of
> "paving the cowpaths" in relation to hCard. It seems to me that hCard
> was derived from vCard rather than being based on existing markup
> practice. How does this square up with the cowpaths philosophy?
I'll leave this to others.  However, I do think the kind of path vcard
took is qualitatively different than the one species is taking.

> This brings me to a question about Species. The Species proposal
> doesn't really reflect current mark-up practice but instead represents
> what might be a good way of doing things in the future if authors were
> to start using it.

I agree completely, and I think this is a problem with the current
effort, but it's one that is solveable.

> The vocabulary in the proposal isn't plucked out of
> thin-air, though; it is taken from the taxonomic hierarchy as used by
> biologists. It seems to be modelled on hCard in this respect, hence my
> cowpaths question. My own feeling is that the current proposal is too
> complex. The current usage patterns as far as I can see (in the
> majority of cases) either have species names as plain text or
> marked-up with simple <strong> tags, or <em> or <i>. However, I'm not
> adverse to having a rich vocabulary of class names to call on should I
> need them (which 9 times out of 10 I won't), as long as a species name
> can still be marked-up very simply. This is similar to the way in
> which hCard has a rich vocabulary, but can still be very simple.

Charles, this is a great analysis.  This matches my observings, at
<http://microformats.org/wiki/species-examples-regrouped>.  I think
the format would benefit greatly from taking a fresh look at the
examples collected.  It look to me like there should be two pieces.
One should be the way authors mention species in text, the other
should be how authoritative sources represent the information about a
species.  In any case, the first behaviour can be accomplished,
perhaps entirely, by using tagging techniques.  Perhaps the in-depth
use of unambiguous names can be used by a second format intended for
publishers of the authoritative information.

Ben West

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