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See the latest work being done on this in the IndieWebCamp community:


Picoformats represent an effort being undertaken led by Chris Messina to codify various standards and openly pursue a nomenclature and syntax for communicating and executing commands with mobile devices over SMS or via command line interfaces (CLI).

An example application is Dodgeball's use of the at symbol (@) to express checking in to a place.

Using the Microformats process and principles of building block design, our goal is to openly develop a complete syntax for interacting with various mobile services using the characters available on most mobile devices.

Problem Statement

  • send messages to user mobiles - via SMS, or a small application, that contains information like appointment times, locations,

directions, and contact info. For example, when2where.com reminds users when they need to leave to get to their appointment, so the message may be like:

leave @ 4:35PM ~Dentist Office -> Detroit, MI

where the text itself is simple and readable, but there *may* be an small utility that would parse the @ symbol to add the event to the calendar, the ~ to allow the person to quickly call that contact, or the -> to pull up a Map/directions to the location

  • allow users to write messages to query an application - this is similar to what Mozes has started with notes:
when2where: ?today    --- what appointments to I have today
new @ 4PM ~Olive Garden -> Novi     --- add an appointment

In addition to the obvious mobile device arena, picoformats may be usable in any context where "markup" is too heavy. For example, an IRC bot, whereisbot, that announces user locations as they sign into a channel, or allows people to do:

.whereami, or .whereis <nick> to geolocate other people in a channel.

The intention is to 'markup' the information, but putting actual XHTML or XML is annoying, since IRC doesn't parse the information at all. So right now the response is:

ajturner: .whereami
whereisbot: ajturner is in Northville, MI, US  [42.4365 x -83.4884]

So then someone could write a Picoformat parser for X-Chat/Colloquy/other that would parse the [ #### x #### ] and provide a Map url link.

Using arrows to denote time and place, familiar from video recorders and other devices. Some thoughts: <past >future ^now (the hat is also mnemonic for Here + At) or >5 (in five days time) >>5 (in 5 weeks time) >>>5 (5 months)

Meeting <Leeds went well. ^Home. See you >london
Sorry, saw them <<2 wanna go see film >3?



Thanks to Chris Messina for collecting a bunch of common work in this area, and exploring the area of short semi-structured text for potential "formats" of a sort that could be agreed upon, perhaps among multiple providers to make it easier for users to remember a common user interface.

See Also