- 34% of webdevs use microformats (2010 State of Web Development survey)
- 1.88 billion hCards (per Yahoo Search SearchMonkey)
- 36 million hCalendar events (ibid)
- XFN -> Social Graph API -> Web as Social Network / Address Book
AUTHORS and PUBLISHING
How can we make it easier for authors to publish microformats?
Currently the simplest hCard:
<span class="vcard"> <span class="fn"> Chris Messina </span> </span>
requires 2 elements (nested, with perhaps at least one being pre-existing), and 2 class names
Web authors/designers are used to the simplicity of most HTML tags, e.g. to mark up a heading:
requires just 1 element.
How can we make microformats just as easy?
Proposal: allow root class name only.
This would enable:
<h1 class="vcard">Chris Messina</h1>
requiring only 1 class name for the simplest case.
Can we do even better?
One of the most common questions asked about hCard is:
This slight inconsistency between the name of the format and the name of the root class name consistently causes confusion in a large percentage of newcomers to microformats.
- Looks like a typo (just one letter difference)
- Ambiguity in discussions, e.g. put "vcard" in your HTML - meaning, class name, or a link to a .vcf file?
- Extra bit to remember when marking up a microformat
Though in microformats we believe very strongly in the principles of Reuse, we have to admit that in this case experience/evidence has shown that this may be a case where we re-used something too far beyond it's original meaning. Thus:
Proposal: use root class name "hcard" instead of "vcard" for future hCards.
This would result in:
<h1 class="hcard">Chris Messina</h1>
making the simple case even simpler:
Just 1 additional class name, named the same as the format you're adding. Think hCard, markup class="hcard".
It's very important for the simple case to be as simple as possible, to enable the maximum number of people to get started with minimum effort.
From there on, it's ok to require incremental effort for incremental return.
E.g. to add any additional information about a person, add explicit property names.
How does this simple root-only case work?
- root class name reflects name of the microformat
- every microformat must require at most 1 property (preferably 0)
- admit that requiring a field in an application just results in noise (the 90210 problem - apps which require zip code get lots of false 90210 entries), and specify that any application use cases which appear to "require" specific properties must instead define how to imply sensible defaults for them.
- when only a root class name is specified, imply the entire text contents of the element as the value of the primary property of the microformat. e.g.
- "hcard" implies "fn"
- hcalendar event - "hevent" - implies "summary"
- "hreview" implies "summary"
- "hentry" implies "entry-summary" (perhaps collapse into "summary" - in practice they're not sufficiently semantically distinct to require separate property names)
- OR instead of making the one implied property be vocabulary specific, introduce a new generic (applicable to all vocabularies) 'name' property (subsuming hCard's 'fn'). See microformats 2 brainstorming: for latest thoughts along these lines.
What more can we simplify about microformats?
Numerous individuals have provided the feedback that whenever there is more than one level of hierarchy in a microformat, many (most?) developers get confused - in particular Kavi Goel of Google / Rich Snippets provided this feedback at a microformats dinner. Thus depending on multiple levels of hierarchy is likely resulting in a loss of authorability, perhaps even accuracy as confusion undoubtedly leads to more errors. Thus:
Proposal: simplify all microformats to flat sets of properties.
What this means:
- all microformats are simply an object with a set of properties with values.
- no more subproperties- drop the notion of subproperties.
- use composition of multiple microformats for any further hierarchy, e.g. the "location" of an hCalendar event can be an hCard, or the "agent" of one hCard can be another hCard.
For example for hCard this would mean the following specific changes to keep relevant functionality:
- drop "n", promote all "n" subproperties to full properties
- given-name, family-name, additional-name, honorific-prefix, honorific-suffix
- treat "geo" as a nested microformat
- treat "adr" as a nested microformat (what to do about adr's "type"?)
- treat "org" as a flat string and drop "organization-name" and "organization-unit" (in practice rarely used, also not revealed or ignored in contact management user interfaces - e.g. Address Book)
Example: add a middle initial to the previous example Chris Messina's name, and markup each name component:
<h1 class="hcard"> <span class="fn"> <span class="given-name">Chris</span> <abbr class="additional-name">R.</abbr> <span class="family-name">Messina</span> </span> </h1>
- use of an explicit span with "fn" to markup his entire formatted name
- use of the abbr element to explicitly indicate the semantic that "R." is merely an abbreviation for his additional-name.
COMMUNITY and TOOLS
(that) USE MICROFORMATS
- parser / parsing
- getting the data out
- json - 1:1 mapping
Parsing microformats currently requires
- a list of root class names of each microformat to be parsed
- a list of properties for each specific microformats, along with knowledge of the type of each property in order to parse their data from potentially different portions of the HTML markup
- some number of format-specific specific rules (markup/content optimizations)
This has meant that whenever a new microformat is drafted/specificied/adopted, parsers need to updated to handle it correctly, at a minimum to parse them when inside other microformats and avoid errantly implying properties from one to the other (containment, mfo-examples problem).
I think there is a fairly simple solution to #1 and #2 from the above list, and we can make progress towards minimizing #3. In short:
Proposal: a set of naming conventions for microformat root class names and properties that make it obvious when:
- a class name represents a microformat root class name
- a class name represents a microformat property name
- a class name represents a microformat property that needs special parsing (specific type of property).
In particular - derived from the real world examples of existing proven microformats (rather than any abstraction of what a schema should have)
- "h-*" for root class names, e.g. "h-card", "h-event", "h-entry"
- "p-*" for simple (text) properties, e.g. "p-fn", "p-summary"
- vocabulary generic parsing, element text in general, treat certain HTML element/attribute combination as special and use those first, e.g. img/alt, abbr/title.
- "u-*" for URL properties, e.g. "u-url", "u-photo", "u-logo"
- special parsing required: prefer a/href, img/src, object/data etc. attributes to element contents.
- "d-*" for datetime properties, e.g. "d-start", "d-end", "d-bday" (initially I had proposed "dt-*" but Chris Messina suggested reducing it to "d-*" so that all prefixes were a single letter - made sense).
- special parsing required: Value Class Pattern, in particular separate date time value parsing for better human readabillity / DRY balance.
- "e-*" for properties where the entire contained element hierarchy is the value, e.g. "e-content" (formerly "entry-content") for hAtom 0.1.
- unclear if this is necessary in general. and if so, if this is only for hAtom, that's insufficient to justify putting it in the generic syntax.
- "i-*" for ID properties, e.g. "i-uid" (if this is the only one, then perhaps we just always re-use "uid" or collapse with "u-*" into "u-id".)
- parsing is no different than "u-*" parsing, thus no need to introduce for now.
- "n-*" for numbers, e.g. "n-rating", "n-geo", where the numbers may have different human-readable-friendly and decimal/machine values (e.g. with geo lat/long degrees minutes seconds vs decimal).
- requires definition of how would different parsing work before worthy of consideration.
- "t-*" for time duration, e.g. "t-duration" in hCalendar 1.0, hAudio 0.9.1, hRecipe 0.22 (note also Google's hRecipe extensions "preptime", "cooktime", "totaltime")
- requires definition of how would different parsing work before worthy of consideration.
- reserve all other single-letter-dash prefixes for future use. In practice we have seen very little (if any) use of single-letter-dash prefixing of class names by web developers/designers, and thus in practice we think this will have little if any impact/collisions. Certainly far fewer than existing generic microformat property class names like "title", "note", "summary".
Example: taking that simple heading hCard example forward:
<h1 class="h-card">Chris Messina</h1>
As part of microformats 2.0 we would immediately define root class names and property names for all existing microformats and drafts consistent with this naming convention, and require support thereof from all new implementations, as well as strongly encouraging existing implementations to adopt the simplified microformats 2.0 syntax and mechanism.
As a community we would continue to use the microformats The microformats process both for researching and determining the need for new microformats, and for naming new microformat property names for maximum re-use and interoperability of a shared vocabulary.
If it turns out we need a new property type in the future, we can use one of the remaining single-letter-prefixes to add it to microformats 2.0. This would require updating of parsers of course, but in practice the number of different types of properties has grown very slowly, and we know from other schema/programming languages that there's always some small limited number of scalar/atomic property types that you need, and using those you can create compound types/objects that represent richer / more complicated types of data.
This has numerous advantages:
- better maintainability - much more obvious to web authors/designers/publishers which class names are for/from microformats.
- no chance of collision - for all practical purposes with existing class names and thus avoiding any need to add more complex CSS style rules to prevent unintended styling effects.
- simple universal parsing - parsers can now do a simple stream-parse (or in-order DOM tree walk) and parse out all microformat objects, properties, and values, without having to know anything about any specific microformats.
More examples: here is that same heading example with name components:
<h1 class="h-card"> <span class="p-fn"> <span class="p-given-name">Chris</span> <abbr class="p-additional-name">R.</abbr> <span class="p-family-name">Messina</span> </span> </h1>
with a hyperlink to Chris's URL:
<h1 class="h-card"> <a class="p-fn u-url" href="http://factoryjoe.com/"> <span class="p-given-name">Chris</span> <abbr class="p-additional-name">R.</abbr> <span class="p-family-name">Messina</span> </a> </h1>
microformats 2.0 is backwards compatible in that in permits content authors to markup with both old and new class names for compatibility with old tools.
Here is a simple example:
<h1 class="h-card vcard"> <span class="fn">Chris Messina</span> </h1>
a microformats 2.0 parser would see the class name "h-card" and imply the one required property from the contents, while a microformats 1.0 parser would find the class name "vcard" and then look for the class name "fn". no data duplication is required. this is a very important continuing application of the DRY principles.
And the above hyperlinked example with both sets of class names:
<h1 class="h-card vcard"> <a class="p-fn u-url n fn url" href="http://factoryjoe.com/"> <span class="p-given-name given-name">Chris</span> <abbr class="p-additional-name additional-name">R.</abbr> <span class="p-family-name family-name">Messina</span> </a> </h1>
(this section was only discussed verbally and not written up during discussions - capturing here as it is topical)
Proprietary extensions to formats have typically been shortlived experimental failures with one big recent exception.
Proprietary or experimental CSS3 property implementations have been very successful.
There has been much use of border radius properties and animations/transitions which use CSS properties with vendor-specific prefixes like:
Note that these are merely string prefixes, not bound to any URL, and thus not namespaces in any practical sense of the word. This is quite an important distinction, as avoiding the need to bind to a URL has made them easier to support and use.
This use of vendor specific CSS properties has in recent years allowed the larger web design/development/implementor communities to experiment and iterate on new CSS features while the features were being developed and standardized.
The benefits have been two-fold:
- designers have been able to make more attractive sites sooner (at least in some browsers)
- features have been market / real-world tested before being fully standardized, thus resulting in better features
Implementers have used/introduced "x-" prefixes for IETF MIME/content-types for experimental content-types, MIME parameter extensions, and HTTP header extensions, per RFC 2045 Section 6.3, RFC 3798 section 3.3, and Wikipedia: HTTP header fields - non-standard headers (could use RFC reference instead) respectively, like:
- application/x-latex (per Wikipedia Internet media type: Type x)
- x-spam-score (in email headers)
- X-Pingback (per Wikipedia:Pingback)
Some standard types started as experimental "x-" types, thus demonstrating this experiment first, standardize later approach has worked for at least some cases:
- image/x-png (standardized as image/png, both per RFC2083)
There have been times when specific sites have wanted to extend microformats beyond what the set of properties in the microformat, and currently lack any experimental way to do so - to try and see if a feature (or even a whole format) is interesting in the real world before bothering to pursue researching and walking it through the microformats process. Thus:
- '*-x-' + '-' + meaningful name for root and property class names
- where "*" indicates the single-character-prefix as defined above
- where "x" indicates a literal 'x' for an experimental extension OR
- OR "x" indicates a vendor prefix (more than one character, e.g. like CSS vendor extension abbreviations, or some stock symbols, avoiding first words/phrases/abbreviations of microformats properties like dt-)
- "h-bigco-one-ring" - a hypothetical "bigco" vendor-specific "onering" microformat root class name.
- "p-goog-preptime" - to represent Google's "preptime" property extension to hRecipe 0.22 (aside: "duration" may be another property type to consider separate from "datetime" as it may be subject to different parsing rules.)
- "p-x-prep-time" - a possible experimental property name to be added to hRecipe upon consideration/documentation of real-world usage/uptake.
Background - this proposal is a composition of the following (at least somewhat) successful vendor extension syntaxes
- CSS 2.1 188.8.131.52 Vendor-specific extensions
- IETF MIME/content-type "x-*" extensions per RFC 2045 Section 6.3. 
- IETF MIME experimental fields (e.g. x-spam-score)
- HTTP header extensions (e.g. x-pingback)
FURTHER THOUGHTS REGARDING HUNGARIAN PREFIXING
Microformats 2.0 proposes using an explicit
[a-z]- prefix on properties, to differentiate them from other uses of the class attribute, and identify them as microformat properties, such that they can be parsed generically.
- The differentiation use case is supported by anecdotal evidence of sites (such as Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo) removing microformats or breaking objects in page edits. The addition of a prefix assists self-documentation of code.
- The generic parsing use case is supported by Google Rich Snippets, Yahoo Search Monkey, and extensible plugins like Operator and the Firefox microformats parser. Although these extract microformats from the page, they are intermediate systems between the page content and the actual interpretation of the data. They need to parse all objects from a page, and then another developer or application will interpret some of them into something else.
(Note: the theoretical assertion "they need to parse all objects from a page" is not actually backed by *any* existing use of microformats/microdata/RDFa parsing - *none* of those parse "all objects from a page" if you consider every markup element an "object" - rather, one of the strength of microformats (mimicked by the others) is that the publisher is able to markup *just* the data to be extracted, rather than perhaps purely "presentational" content, ads, UI widgets etc. -- Tantek 02:15, 11 April 2011 (UTC) )
The µf2 proposal goes further, though, into a small vocabulary of Hungarian prefixes of properties based on data type. This increases the level of understanding required to read microformats, and reduces the benefit of all microformat properties having a consistent identifying prefix.
(Debatable assertion:"increases the level of understanding required to read microformats" - how? In microformats 2.0, authors/developers know that any single-letter-and-hyphen prefixed class name is for microformats 2.0, in contrast to today - developers have consistently given feedback that's hard to tell which generic class names (other than h* names) are microformat related and which are not. As for specific prefixes, "h-*" is special and follows the pattern of existing microformats. p = generic (p)roperty, and the other prefixes have trivial mnemonics as well, d for (d)atetimes etc. (so far, hopefully we can keep that up). -- Tantek 02:15, 11 April 2011 (UTC) )
Hungarian notation itself is controversial amongst programmers. Plenty find it uglifies their code, can be a cause of confusion (especially when very-short prefixes are used, or esoteric types, or where the declared set of types differs from the available types in other programming languages.) Others support its benefits to type identification.
(Programmers are not the priority here, rather, designers/authors/publishers are. We design microformats for them first as they're the common use case, and we should avoid making statements that seem to imply any priority for the aesthetic preferences of programmers. -- Tantek 02:15, 11 April 2011 (UTC))
Critically, however, there is no clear indication that either of the above use cases requires types to be strongly identified.
- For identifying µf in pages, a differentiator is required from regular classnames. There is no evidence of further requirement to differentiate between properties beyond their name (and existing criticisms of Hungarian notation suggest it can harm understandability.)
- There is such evidence, and perhaps thus this would be a good FAQ topic. The derivation is quite simple - it comes directly from minimally affecting existing markup, and maximally using existing semantic information. Example of special purpose parsing, URL-like properties use the value of the 'href' (or equivalent) attribute because that's where that data already is in pages. Similarly with dates and datetimes - special parsing rules for that data type have permitted us to design the Value Class Pattern to take advantage of specially parsing date and time separation. By re-using data *where publishers already put it, including attributes vs inline* we minimize the risk of data drift. -- Tantek 02:15, 11 April 2011 (UTC)
- Additionally, this special type-specific parsing of microformats properties conveys microformats advantages of markup brevity that other syntaxes lack. E.g. you can convey *multiple* properties and values from a single existing element, e.g. the *very* common real-world pattern
is minimally marked up as
<a href="http://example.com/user">User Name</a>
<span class="h-card"><a class="p-name u-url" href="http://example.com/user">User Name</a></span>
- For generic parsing, there is no requirement that datatypes be established at extraction time. Data types will instead be applied by the developers of apps and widgets that build on the generic parsers.
- There are requirements based on experience with actual markup. In order to support the patterns of where content publishers put the data we want to extract, we have determined (based on those publishing patterns) a few different ways (types) of parsing this data. This is all captured in the hCard parsing property-specific parsing rules each of which were added one at a time as Brian Suda and myself encountered real world sites wanting to use hCard 1.0 but not wanting to have to rewrite their markup (adding one span and some class names was about the limit, moving tags/attributes around was a showstopper in many/most cases), and each of the microformats 2.0 "types" are directly derived from such special purpose data/type parsing across *multiple* microformats. -- Tantek 02:15, 11 April 2011 (UTC)
- A counter argument may be that special properties in microformats—such as URLs, or images—need to be identified because in microformats it is common to parse an attribute (href, or src) rather than inner text of an element for these properties. However, in the context of extracting and then interpreting HTML in other contexts this is insufficient: For example, though an image only exists as a single property in vcard, in HTML it is both a URL to a resource and and text string (alt) representing an accessible fallback. A ‘generic extracter’ of microformats from a page must capture all of this information from HTML, so that the interpreting application can choose which data type is most relevant to its context. Likewise, an application interpreting a URL may also consider using the original inner text as an inferred label. Both pieces of data are useful, and a generic parser should not discard elemental semantics at the extraction level.
- It's not just "*common* to parse an attribute rather than inner text of an element for these properties" - it is the vast overwhelming majority - if not all - such cases!
- One misconception: "image only exists as a single property". No, there is both 'photo' and 'logo'. The 'url' and 'sound' properties are also of type 'url'. For all of these, when parsing an "object" element, you must use the 'data' attribute first for example. hCalendar has "attachment" as well. Etc.
- Theoretical assertion: "A ‘generic extracter’ of microformats from a page must capture all of this information from HTML, so that the interpreting application can choose which data type is most relevant to its context." Why? There is no existing nor demonstrated use case for this requirement, even across other formats. While I agree it "might be nice" to develop a new "structured image" type - that's brand new work (deserving of research per the The microformats process etc.), and not a good source of reasoning to reject existing working patterns. I reject blocking microformats 2.0 on an as-yet-to-be-researched-enhancement. This is certainly a case where "better" is an enemy of the good.
- Theoretical assertion: "a generic parser should not discard elemental semantics at the extraction level" - already does for other syntaxes like both microdata and RDFa - so clearly this is not a reasonable "should not" assertion (and thus unnecessary) for development of a minimally competitive syntax. RDFa kind of cheats by overloading the 'rel' attribute in attempt to solve the name+url case as mentioned above, but that's only two types - and existing real world use of microformats has demonstrated utility of a few more. -- Tantek 02:15, 11 April 2011 (UTC)
Given this, hungarian prefixes are of no benefit to parsers (and may in fact harm applications down the chain if parsing is prematurely strict.) It would be sufficient then not to concern embedding data types in property names, and instead settle on one single property prefix to differentiate all properties consistently. This would reduce the prefixes to just 3:
hwould indicates a root class name. An ‘object in HTML’.
pwould indicates a property within an object.
xwould indicates an experimental extension to an object.
--BenWard 01:16, 11 April 2011 (UTC)
The primary benefit of type-specific parsing is *not* for parsers, but rather, publishers (who we still hold in higher priority than parsers).
I will also note that *each* of the type-specific parsing methods in hCard parsing was added both conservatively, reluctantly, and only when it became clear that such type-specific publishing patterns existing across *multiple* sites that would otherwise be unable to change their markup to work with microformats (Yes, I'm wishing now that I better documented exactly *which* sites, precisely *when*, but like many startups, early on we didn't exactly know how much to document vs get things done - frankly I think we documented far more than any other comparable such efforts, e.g. we managed to at least capture/grow both an explicit The microformats process and principles in *far* greater detail than anything remotely comparable either before microformats or since!). The type-specific parsing features are certainly not overdesigned, on the contrary they've *slowly* evolved, adapting to real world data on the web.
While per the start as simple as possible principle, I would actually *strongly* prefer to only have the three prefixes given above, or actually just *two* (I started with just two for the design of microformats 2.0 actually, just "h-*" and "p-*"), doing so would be a step *backwards* in terms of the adaptability of microformats to existing markup, and that's IMHO an unacceptable barrier, and a sufficiently high barrier to hurt the adoption/applicability of microformats 2.0.
(Aside: In addition, note that you still need h-x-* for experimental objects, and thus it's *simpler* to simply have *both* h-x-* and p-x-* rather than add x-*. Alternatively x-h-* and x-p-* is no better, in some ways worse, in that object vs. property is a more important distinction for parsers than established vs experimental, especially if/when an experimental property (or object) may be adopted. Also, mild precdent: PNG started with image/x-png, not x-image/png.).
To put it in a positive way, type-specific parsing conveys microformats a publisher-markup-density (and re-use) advantage which neither microdata nor RDFa have, and it would behoove us to *keep* this significant real-world advantage as we evolve microformats.
-- Tantek 02:15, 11 April 2011 (UTC)
Need more tools and interfaces that:
- right-click on a microformat
- search results
discussed some existing like: H2VX converts hCard to vCard, hCalendar to iCalendar
how would we re-implement Live Clipboard today, making it easier for publishers and developers?