Case Studies Re: [microformats-discuss] Re: Education

Dr.Ernie Prabhakar drernie at
Wed Oct 5 11:28:27 PDT 2005

Hi Robert,

> So, what were the problems and how did the microformats solve it?

Hmm, I feel like there's a disconnect. I feel like I've been giving  
you answers, but perhaps they are either too general or too specific  
to actually help.  Let me give you a couple case studies; if that  
doesn't work for you, perhaps you can help me understand why:

1.  Organization web page

I'm responsible for the website or an informal group at work. The  
HTML I inherited was a horrible mess, and painful to maintain.  I  
realized that it was pretty much just a list of events, people, and  
resources.   So, just to avoid having to think about HTML design, I  
turned the whole thing into a bunch of XOXO, hCards, and hEvents.    
Then, in order to make it look the way I wanted, I just added (or  
often, stole:) appropriate style declarations.

Could I have done this without microformats? Actually, no.  You  
might, but *I* couldn't.  Microformat was the crutch to help me think  
intelligently about CSS.  As a bonus, I can now use all these funky  
tools to extract vCards -- and show the entire site as a  
presentation. Cool!

2.  Custom application format

One of my side projects is working on a program to display lyrics for  
sing-a-longs (i.e., church worship services).   I was experimenting  
with a bunch of different XML schemas, but a) I wasn't sure I had it  
right, and b) there was no way I could imagine getting a lot of  
people to adopt it.

Then I discovered S5.  I suddenly realized that XOXO was the perfect  
format for encoding lyrics (stanzas, lines, etc.).
| It is so obviously *right* that it is trivial to evangelize, rather  
than arguing over every last tag.   It is flexible, so people can add  
their own metadata if needed, and socialize them informally rather  
than having to push them through a central standard (which I'd have  
to maintain, ugh). It is also non-intimidating, so people who know  
HTML but not XML (believe me, there's a lot of them) are comfortable  
adopting it.

Not bad.  But wait, there's more!  This also means:
	a) There's a trivial way to view every file (browser), even without  
my app
	b) Design can be done using CSS, meanings trivial to customize -- i  
don't need to provide a tool
	c) I can reuse the existing HTML viewing tools on my platform

At this point, I literally cannot imagine tackling any web site or  
application format problem withOUT leveraging existing  
microformats.   It is the shortest route to success for the kinds of  
things *I* care about.  Where getting an 80% solution out - now- is  
the most important thing.  To Danny's point:

On Oct 5, 2005, at 11:02 AM, Danny Ayers wrote:
> One thing I do find a little curious. A large proportion of systems on
> the Web have a long tail distribution - there's value in the
> thousands, millions of little thingies, not only the top 10. So I'm a
> little surprised to find so many people around these parts prepared to
> write off edge cases as so much cruft. As the Web grows, surely the
> sum of specific cases approaches the general case..?

Not in my experience.  If you slice the 80/20 correctly, it is  
actually only the top 5% of customers who ever actually run into the  
tough edge cases.  The long tail rarely cares -- certainly not enough  
to pay the added cost.

Its kinda like optimizing source code.  Its better to write it first  
then optimize the hotspots, than try to pre-optimized what you  
*think* the problems will be.

Hope this helps,

- Ernie P.

On Oct 5, 2005, at 10:20 AM, Robert Sayre wrote:

> On 10/5/05, Dr. Ernie Prabhakar <drernie at> wrote:
>> Seriously, it does seem that either people immediately sense the
>> value, or it appears completely ridiculous to them.
> I don't like the binary opposition. I don't feel like I "get it", but
> I have used XOXO to good effect already. I think I understand why it's
> better than some random XML format.
>> Rather, we're saying, "This has solved -our- problems.  Why not look
>> to see if it might solve yours?" That's all.
> Yes, you guys keep saying that, and I am prepared to believe it. So,
> what were the problems and how did the microformats solve it? I can
> understand the reluctance to answer that question directly, since it
> opens to door to all sorts of "but what about..." kinds of objections
> that fall outside the sweet spot.
> Robert Sayre

Ernest N. Prabhakar, Ph.D. <drernie at>
Ex-Physicist, Marketing Weenie, and Dilettante Hacker
Probe-Hacker blog:

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