XFN Brainstorming

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This page is for brainstorming about various uses and details of XFN, as well as collecting input for potential extensions.

Required Reading

Before participating in any XFN brainstorming please read and understand the following:

Note that all existing XFN values were based on research that showed real world sites that indicated such relationships explicitly via text and hyperlinks to other sites. Thus any new semantics or values will be more seriously considered if URLs demonstrating existing text labeling and hyperlinking behavior are provided.



Identity Consolidation

See rel-me and identity-consolidation.  

Indicating non-identity

I think we need a way to indicate that another page should not be consolidated into your identity. - KevinMarks

common name disambiguation

If you have a common name, creating a disambiguation page or pages to indicate which ones aren't you is useful for indexers and people alike. In fact there are examples of people already creating such a page and linking to pages that are not them. Real world use cases that would benefit:

accidental or malicious rel-me links

If someone accidentally or maliciously links to one of my pages with rel="me" it would be good to be able to actually deny the connection, rather than just passively not link back. See | the social graph API results for kevinmarks.com for examples. - KevinMarks

This appears to be more of a theoretical use case (as compared to the common name disambiguation) because the real world use is to simply not link back, and I don't think we should encourage people to add links to things that are not them, nor are they likely to, especially if it is a spammer/stalker/griefer that is linking to them. - Tantek

notme proposal

initial proposal: rel="notme", though very open to better suggestions.

Extending family relationships


The XFN: Background page says:

We considered adding "grandparent," but in the end dropped the term because it seemed unlikely to be used in the near future. It may appear in future versions of XFN.

Presumably the assumption is that a grandparent won't have a website, but:

  • I think it's important in some situations to capture the age difference in a relationship in a way that rel="kin" doesn't seem to.
    • Additional XFN rel values is the wrong way to represent age information (even relative). Instead, mark up each person's page with an hCard for them that has a bday property, with even just the year if you want - that could then be used to determine an approximate age difference, which is presumably all that is desired. Tantek
  • rel=kin with an age difference of, say, 45 years, might represent any of parent, grandparent, uncle, sibling, cousin or more.
    • Again, age (and thus differences) should be represented by use of the hCard 'bday' property, not rel. Tantek 19:27, 15 June 2009 (UTC)

grandparent examples

If people actually find and document non-trivial examples of links to grandparent sites and this section gets too big, perhaps we can move it to grandparent-examples.

To date, no real world examples have been documented of URLs of grandchildren linking to their grandparents, thus, per the microformats process, we should not complicate a format for a theoretical need.

Anyone that cares to pursue this may find some real world examples to document in the following web searches (note that search links themselves are not examples, but merely a step towards finding real world examples which still need to be individually analyzed, checked against being false positives etc.)

See also genealogy-examples.

ancestor descendant

Even if they don't maintain it themselves (or are deceased) there might be a URL that does a good job of representing a person.

Consider a site about one's family tree. It might have something like:

I can trace my family back to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_I_of_England">William the conqueror.</a>

In these cases it would be useful to have rel="ancestor", and perhaps a corresponding rel="descendant". -CiaranMc

See also: genealogy-brainstorming#Relationships

  • rel="kin" can be considered sufficient until at least some number of non-trivial real world examples are provided.

ancestor descendant examples

If this section gets too big, perhaps we can move it to ancestor-descendant-examples.

So far only a couple of (representative) real world examples (from just one site, Wikipedia) have been provided, thus, per the microformats process, we should not complicate a format for a need clearly outside of the 80/20.

Simple Groups and Members

A very simple extension to XFN could enable decentralized group membership. E.g.

  • rel="group". A person could link from their page to the page of a group that they belong to (e.g. their company, school, DJ collective etc.) and thus assert that they belong to that group.
  • rel="member". The web pages of groups could link to who they consider members and thus assert that person's membership.

The relationships could be required bi-directional in order to confirm group membership, that is, both the individual must link to the group with rel="group" and the group must link to the individiual with rel="member" in order for the membership to be considered "true".

See also group-brainstorming for more on this including documentation of examples.

fans and followers

It's becoming a common aspect of many social networks (see list below) that you have unreciprocated and non-friend-based connections to people. These connections are particularly noteworthy where you don't really ever expect to have your connections reciprocated, but instead are similar to the idea of "rel-muse".

follower and following

The brainstorming on fans and followers and inverses thereof has appeared to settle (for many months - over a year(?)) on "follower" and "following" as mutual inverse relationship terms.

Current summary:

  • rel="follower" - links to someone who is a follower, that is they are following you.
  • rel="following" - links to someone who is one of your "followings", i.e. someone you are following.

Summary discussion:

  • I'd say they're ready for experimentation on websites in the wild. Once we have examples in the wild, we can promote this to a draft of rel-follower. Tantek 00:13, 21 October 2010 (UTC)
  • We've had consensus on this for a while now - consider this an invitation for anyone to start stubbing out minimal descriptions for rel-follower and rel-following, and then we can add them as brainstorming values as well as register them for use in HTML5 in the existing-rel-values page. Tantek 16:55, 30 June 2011 (UTC)


  • Q: Does rel=following mean that I read all their content daily/hourly/in real time?[1]
    • A: rel=following just means reading some amount, no implications about timeliness, nor comprehensiveness.[2]

See below for the analysis and brainstorming that led to this outcome and for specific discussions.

fan follower examples

Sites that have the semantic / implied-schema of "fan" or "follower")


possible inverse of fan terms

Brainstorm list of possible terms (for an inverse of fan/follower):

  • source
    • +1 I like this as a neutral term, except that it would be better kept as a rel value for atom:source in hAtom (on re-reading the Atom spec, atom:source should be a class on a containing element) Kevin Marks
  • influence
  • influencer
    • 0 Tantek - I like this one, it seems to represent the implied semantics. If I follow someone, then they are an "influencer" to me. However, the point made by User:Donohoe below is a good one thus I've changed my opinion from +1 to +0 on this option.
    • -1 Sounds like "influenza", and just because I follow someone, doesn't mean they influence me. Gazza
    • -1 - influence can be negative as well as positive: "The child only shoplifted because he was under the influence of older boys". Andy Mabbett 01:04, 26 Jan 2008 (PST)
      • -1 Argument from theoretical example. Tantek 21:46, 15 June 2009 (UTC)
    • -1 This seems too strong; the relationship is not meant to imply an endorsement; we have vote-links for that Kevin Marks Donohoe's reasoning below is good and I prefer 'following'
    • -1 This value is assigned one of 2 ways; arbitrarily by app, or by the user. I don't trust an app to make a decision on what constitutes an influencer and I don't see a user choosing that in its current wording --Donohoe 19:55, 5 Aug 2008 (PDT)
      • I tend to agree with Donohoe's reasoning. Tantek 21:46, 15 June 2009 (UTC)
  • leader
  • star
  • hero
  • favorite
  • guider
  • role-model
  • idol
    • -1 Tantek These all seem too strong and sometimes imply more subordination than most people want.
  • subscription
    • +1 Tony Stubblebine
    • +1 this one seems most neutral to me (a good thing) STHayden 08:35, 3 Mar 2008 (PST)
    • -1 this makes sense in a feed-reader context, but not necessarily in a blogroll one; it implies the content rather than the person Kevin Marks 14:30, 24 Mar 2008 (PDT)
    • +1 Was neutral, now in favor --Donohoe 19:11, 6 Aug 2008 (PDT)
    • -1 against for same reasons as Kevin Marks. And "subscription" doesn't sound like a term for a person. -- Tantek
  • of-interest
  • interest
  • followee
  • focus
  • following - as the singular of "followings". If someone is one of your "followings", then you are following that someone, as opposed to if someone is one of your "followers", then that someone is following you! It may sound a bit clumsy/awkward as a term at first, but I think that's actually a sign of novel usage, which has some appeal because then it means the term may be available for us to fill it with this meaning - or I should say, amplify this meaning as it has been given by existing Twitter users.
    • +1 Tantek following is the best term I have seen for the inverse of fan/follower, and paired with follower, provides a good enough complementary pair of relationships to express both directions.
    • Note that Google has now adopted the "follow" terminology. -- Chris Messina
    • +1 'following'is widely adopted. Lets just decide on this and get it implemented.
    • +1 I think 'following' is now well understood thanks to both Twitter and Blogger using it, and worth codifying here Kevin Marks
  • follows

rejected fan follower terms


I would propose adding "rel-fan" or "rel-follower" to the collection of XFN values -- as being something like a "contact" or a "muse" but having a different purpose within the realm of social networking. Again, given that this is showing up in social networks like Pownce (fan), Twitter (follower), and that these words are becoming common, I wonder if it wouldn't make sense to even ditch rel-muse in favor of rel-follower and rel-fan (the former implying some kind of positive social stalking and the latter a kind of amiable appreciation for someone's work).

This fan/follower designation seems sorely lacking from Flickr where not everyone falls into either contact, friend or family... but in many cases, you just like someone's photos and want to be able to check in on them every now and again, similar to the way that people "follow" or "subscribe" to blog feeds... Someone who reads my blog feed could be considered a "follower" -- as in, "someone who follows my blog".

- Chris Messina

Chris, rel-fan or rel-follower would work for you to point to people who follow you, but the converse case is probably more useful, saying who you follow (eg blogroll case too). We need a good noun for that relationship that describes how you view them, that is less coloured than 'muse' currently is by being classified as romantic. rel-source or rel-influence maybe? Very hard to come up with a good noun.

Kevin Marks 12:57, 17 Aug 2007 (PDT)

  • Hence the existence of the HTML "rev" attribute. TobyInk 00:12, 25 Feb 2008 (PST)
    • The use of rev has been deprecated since authors nearly always get it wrong. Tantek 10:32, 6 Aug 2008 (PDT)
      • I'm not suggesting that we create a new microformat using rev — I'm pointing out that if we define rel=fan (for linking to your fans) then rev=fan "automatically pops into meaning". (Besides which the usually quoted evidence of rev being "confusing" to authors (i.e. Google's analysis) is flaky at best.) TobyInk 15:26, 6 Aug 2008 (PDT)
        • Suggesting the use of rev=fan (as you just did) *is* creating a new microformat using rev, so yes, you are suggesting it. And Google's analysis backed up many years of my (and others') personal anecdotal experience with web developers where >90% did not understand the difference between rel and rev. Tantek 17:53, 6 Aug 2008 (PDT)
          • My point is that as per the HTML 4 definition of rev any time anyone defines a new link type rel=X, the meaning of rev=X becomes defined too. This is unavoidable. We should define new link types in terms of rel rather than rev for clarity, but we can't prevent people from taking advantage of the facilities inherent in (X)HTML to mark up the inverse meaning. (e.g. rev=tag mention, and again, and again) TobyInk 01:17, 7 Aug 2008 (PDT)
            • We can avoid use of 'rev' by (1) specifically recommending against use of it as the rel FAQ does, and (2) by providing an inverse term that can be used with 'rel' so there is no need to use 'rev'. Tantek 19:27, 15 June 2009 (UTC)


For blogrolls at least, what about rel-read / rel-reader? -- Steve Ivy

Steve, "read" is still a verb (and rel-values need to be nouns), and "reader" would still imply that they are a "reader" of yours, rather than vice versa. -- Tantek

How about "rel-reader" instead of "rel-follower" and "rel-reading" instead of "rel-following" ? It has the more 'neutral' and 'real world' connotation of actually reading and not 'following' people around. Also refers to the traditional word for such things in the book-world as in "Neil Gaiman's readers" and "I am reading Neil Gaiman" -- Kartik

On further thought and discussion with Tantek (see: IRC logs reference ), reader/reading denote textual content which seems too narrow for the Web.-- Kartik


What about subscriber instead - also very neutral and more akin to others in the list? --Donohoe 19:55, 5 Aug 2008 (PDT)

"subscriber" is no different from "reader" in this respect, and means the *opposite* of what we are looking for. I.e. a rel="subscriber" link to someone would mean that someone is a subscriber of my content/feed. -- Tantek

past examples

Sites that previously provided real world examples of fans vs friends:

  • http://pownce.com/ (has fans vs friends) - until 2008-12-15 when the site moved to read-only mode.


Another possibility is perhaps 'favorite', that is, people do link to favorite bands for example, which is similar to saying they are a fan of the band. Thus you could add rel="favorite" to such hyperlinks to indicate that that music band over there is a favorite of yours. Tantek 17:57, 2 Oct 2007 (PDT) based on a question raised by DanBri.

mentors and mentees

Though seemingly rare, I personally have found use for rel="mentor" and inverse rel="mentee" (see Wiktionary definitions: mentor, mentee). I don't have sufficient evidence to even consider proposing adding these to XFN, but I wanted to capture them here as a brainstorm while I look into using them personally and research examples in the wild. I may just use them as POSH myself.

Tantek 02:34, 8 Jul 2007 (PDT)

advisor and advisee

Similarly, I have seen folks reference someone as an advisor, or note that they are advising someone. We could consider rel="advisor" and rel="advisee" to capture and represent these semantics.

Note that the relationship of advising a company or organization would be much better captured by noting "advisor" as a "role" property value in an hCard listing that organization, e.g.:

<span class="vcard">
 <span class="fn">Tantek Çelik</span>
 <span class="org">Citizen Agency</span>
 <span class="role">advisor</span>

Again, I think POSH usage of these terms would make a good experiment to see if there is sufficient use to formalize them.

Tantek 07:45, 29 Dec 2007 (PST)

Influence out and influenced in

Needing to provide more options to describe the flow of influence I've been considering the following relationship terms that fall into two predicate groups, influence out(applied) and influence in(received).

Influence out:

  • 'follower'
  • 'student'
  • 'subscriber'
  • 'listener'
  • 'reader'
  • 'viewer'
  • 'supporter'
  • 'collaborator'

Influence in:

  • 'inspiration'
  • 'favorite'
  • 'teacher'
  • 'mentor'
  • 'adviser'
  • 'influence'
  • 'source'
  • 'collaborator'

Inline with xfn convention the terms are all nouns and refer to the far side of the link they are used in.

James Tindall 14:23, 31 Aug 2008 (BST)


A possibility that might be added is scholarly definitions. For example:

  • rel="mentor"[Student's Teacher] (similar to above)
    • or perhaps rel="teacher" to indicate the distinct scholarly semantic. - Tantek
  • rel="student"[Teacher's Student] (inverse of mentor)
  • rel="classmate"[Student's classmate].

Possible uses in Social Networking sites that involve adding your school, grading your teachers, etc. Teacher <-> Teacher would be specified in with the existing XFN rel="co-worker" or rel="colleague" values.

Navarr 05:56, 13 Dec 2007 (CST)


  • xpn / xpn-examples - proposal to extend (or replicate) XFN for business (or professional - hence XPN) relationships

business to business

There has been some discussion (on the microformats-discuss mailing list) about wanting to markup business to business relationships.

While this is out of scope for XFN's person to person links, if a page/site does represent a company (e.g. if the representative hCard of the page was an organization) and links to other company sites, it could be useful.

In particular rel values of:

  • subsidiary. designates a link to a subsidiary company of a controlling/parent company
  • controlling. designates a link to the controlling/parent company of a subsidiary company
  • ...

Currently this is a theoretical example as no real world example pages of companies linking to other such company pages have been provided, and as such, there is insufficient research/usage/experience to merit consideration as a microformat.

Those wishing to experiment with these rel values, should consider doing so as POSH and document their experience here so that we have some real world examples!

Tantek 19:27, 15 June 2009 (UTC)

met and wants to meet

Lanyrd allows to mark people as "Want to meet". Also some people like to keep track on who they have met. Based on discussion on #indiewebcamp IRC

Elf Pavlik 23:01, 3 May 2015 (UTC)

see also