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microformats principles

A key differentiating factor between microformats and other formats are the principles upon which microformats have been researched, designed, and developed.

Tantek Çelik

summary of key principles

related principles

Related principles the microformats community re-uses from other design paradigms:

effects of principles

Goals, objectives, and effects of some of the principles.

  • Data Integrity. One of the common objectives which many of the principles help achieve is data integrity.
    • Visible data = more accurate data. By designing for humans first and making the data presentable (thus viewed and verified by humans), the data is inevitably more accurate, not only to begin with (as errors are easily/quickly noticed by those viewing the pages/sites), but over time as well; in that changes are noticed, and if data becomes out-of-date or obsolete, that's more likely to be noticed as well. This is in direct contrast to "side files" and invisible data like that contained in <meta> tags.
    • Not repeating yourself (following DRY) - means there are fewer chances for inconsistency
    • Multi-language integrity. Perhaps not a principle, but many of those involved with microformats have found that consistently using UTF-8 helps ensure that the human text content itself is not corrupted, especially when using non-ASCII7 characters.
  • Lowering barriers for publishers. One of the goals of microformats is to be a bit more publisher-centric in design, rather than parser-centric, as compared to other formats efforts. That does not mean that we try to make things completely free of effort for publishers, because clearly we ask a little of them, but it does mean that we ask less of them than most other standards efforts, which ask publishers to learn new languages, create new files, namespaces etc. For example the hCalendar microformat lowers barriers for publishers in comparison to the iCalendar (RFC 2445) format which otherwise requires the publisher to learn a new language (.ics), create a separate .ics file, etc. hCalendar itself can perhaps be made easier still through the resolution of some of the hCalendar issues, but the larger point is, even in its current state, hCalendar immediately lowers the barrier for publishers to publish and share event information in an open format in comparison to previous calendar formats. The following principle(s) help lower barriers for publishers:
    • humans first, machines second. One aspect of being more human-centric in design is about making it easier for humans in general to publish information in microformats, rather than just making it easier for machines (programs) to parse microformats. This seems like an obvious trade-off in that many fewer humans develop/write parsers than publish content, and thus making publishing easier benefits more people.
    • Note: to be clear, the goal here is lowering barriers for publishers, rather than eliminating barriers for publishers at all costs. One could take the extreme view that publishers shouldn't have to do anything different at all, and that all the work should be done by parsers which should be made as intelligent as possible (through techniques such as content entity detection). Such methods tend to be probabilistic in nature, having varying degrees of success and accuracy, often providing "good enough" results for many applications. However, probabilistic data detection etc. is not good enough when one of the goals is Data Integrity, as stated above. Thus while we recognize the utility of entity detection, microformats do not and must not depend on probabilistic methods such as entity detection.
  • User centered data re-use. By encouraging POSH and additional semantic markup through microformats, microformats themselves greatly enable user driven data re-use. Portability, i.e. data-portability and social-network-portability, is one example of user driven data re-use.
    • Some of this is achieved implicitly by what we don't ask publishers to do. Specifically, we ask publishers to: mark up data semantically, which enables general re-use, and explicitly avoid asking them to mark up data semantically and with verbs for specific re-uses.


Quotes relating to the principles:


"The trick... is to make sure that each limited mechanical part of the Web, each application, is within itself composed of simple parts that will never get too powerful." — Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving The Web

"The beauty of this is its simplicity. If the plan gets too complex something always goes wrong." — John Goodman's character "Walter"


"...if I had insisted everyone use HTTP, this would also have been against the principle of minimal constraint... the Web would come as a set of ideas that could be adopted individually in combination with existing or future parts." — Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving The Web


Many of the principles were/are based on explicitly inverting assumptions from typical technology format development.


  • 2014-10-16: Tom Morris has found many of the principles and processes learned from participation in the microformats community useful in building internal standards in his work life, specifically a focus on simplicity, the use of the Pareto Principle, deriving standards from common usage, registering common values on wikis and so on.

See also