What are microformats?
microformats are the simplest way to openly publish contacts, events, reviews, recipes, and other structured information on the web.
microformats.org maintains the official registry of HTML rel values.
Check out microformats2 for current work.
the microformats principles
- solve a specific problem
- start simple
- humans first, machines second
- modularity / embeddability
See Testimonals and quotes relating to the principles.
See the main page for a list of current microformats specifications, drafts, and discussions.
How microformats started
What are microformats started with the following in 2005:
- a way of thinking about data
- design principles for formats
- adapted to current behaviors and usage patterns ("Pave the cow paths." - Adam Rifkin)
- highly correlated with semantic XHTML, AKA the real world semantics, AKA lowercase semantic web, AKA lossless XHTML
- described by Tantek's recent presentation at SXSW: The Elements of Meaningful XHTML
- a set of simple open data format standards that a diverse community of individuals and organizations are actively developing and implementing for more/better structured blogging and web microcontent publishing in general.
- "An evolutionary revolution" - Ryan King
- all the above.
microformats are not
- a new language
- infinitely extensible and open-ended
- an attempt to get everyone to change their behavior and rewrite their tools
- a whole new approach that throws away what already works today
- a panacea for all taxonomies, ontologies, and other such abstractions
- defining the whole world, or even just boiling the ocean
- controlled by any individual or organization
- any of the above
more thoughts on how microformats are different
There are plenty of existing formats that are nearly totally useless/ignored.
They're not totally useless though. They're useful in that they illustrate what at least someone thought might be useful, which unfortunately is typically a lone-inventor working a-priori without any domain expertise.
Or there is the other extreme. Lots of corporate inventors working with plenty of experience, over-designing a format for what might be needed some day. In particularly bad cases, the corporate vendors collude to prevent openness and/or adoptability by the open source community. Media standards often suffer from this kind of deliberate "strategic" positioning.
We seek to combat all of those problems with the microformat approach.
- We're not lone-inventors; we're a community.
- We don't work a-priori ("from reason alone"); we require documentation of existing examples, previous attempts at formats. See The microformats process.
- When lacking domain expertise, we seek out the domain experts to provide it, and we immerse ourselves in examples and prior art from the domain (see previous point).
- We do our work in the open with open discussion forums.
- We're a diverse mix of corporate, independent, hobbyist, enthusiast.
- We don't over-design. We under-design, deliberately, and then only add things when they are absolutely necessary.
- We adopt very liberal copyright/licensing (public domain - required as of 2007-12-29 for microformats wiki contributions,CC,GMPG,IETF,W3C) and patent positions (RF,IETF,W3C).
- We ruthlessly self-criticize based on our principles in order to keep to the above.
Some ask what the purpose of the (intended) standards is.
Why do you need purpose? More often than not, premature focus on purpose tends to distort data formats towards a particular application which may not be all that relevant. Hence rather than focus on a-priori purpose, we focus on modelling existing behavior, with the knowledge that additional structure will yield plenty of interesting uses, most of which we will not be able to a-priori predict.
This is obviously a very different approach than traditional data format efforts.
Positive with iteration rather than negative with inaction.
Microformats tend to take a positive attitude of developing and using the best techniques we can come up with (and iterating upon them), rather than banning or blocking techniques for reasons of fear or cost and thus resulting in inaction. To scrap something, there must be a better alternative provided which addresses the same problem(s) at least as well, with lower costs.