[microformats-discuss] The adoption of syndication feeds -> microformats

David Janes -- BlogMatrix davidjanes at blogmatrix.com
Wed Oct 5 14:16:54 PDT 2005

This makes me think about the mechanism by which syndication feeds were 
adopted by the blogosphere. Most of you folks come from the tech world, 
so the need for syndication probably wasn't a great leap. When I first 
started reading blogs in 2001, most tech blogs that I read provided 
syndication feeds; conversely, many or most blogs from the political 
side of things (for example, the 'warbloggers') did not.

I started BlogMatrix in 2001 as way of scraping blogs without 
syndication to produce feeds for them (as well as a few other things, 
such as tracking discussions). By late 2003, this service was almost 
entirely pointless.

What changed?

First, the sheer utility of syndication -- the ability of one's readers 
to use feed readers -- meant that content providers (i.e. bloggers) 
demanded that their software be capable of providing some sort of 
syndication feed. The common case was a 'blogspot' user which required 
only the adding of a template; further our, users of software such as 
GreyMatter simply moved on to something else, such as MT. Secondly (and 
related), major CMS providers -- blogger (later on) and MT (from the 
beginning) -- realized the utility of syndication and offered it as a 
standard feature.

This is almost exactly analogous to what's happening to microformats 
right now; we are just at the earliest stages of adoption. There's a 
small number of technology-savvy passionate users generating content [1] 
and there's a number of (admit it) privative tools consuming that 
content. One can easily imagine much more powerful tools consuming this 
information -- for example, IMDB [2] collecting reviews from the 
Internet in general rather than from "Usenet".

The low barrier to producing microformat content [it's just a little 
more markup] and the low barrier to consuming it [it's just a little 
parsing] identifies the classic virtuous cycle [3]. And once the ball 
starts rolling, how much trouble is it for blogger.com to add 'hcard' to 
their user profiles or some "web 2.0" site it easy to produce a calendar 
entry that can be inserted directly into a blog entry?

And I can't stress enough the "little more"/"little effort" part that 
makes this whole thing work. (IMHO) FOAF will be as useful in 3 years 
time as NAPLPS, the ISO/OSI model, or X.400; it will be steam-rollered 
by things people actually do, as opposed to speced.

Regards, etc...

PS. Hopefully though, the horrible personality-driven schism that's 
fractured the syndication world won't happen with microformats!

[1] for example, http://eventful.com/events/E0-001-000374406-1
[2] for example, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091042/newsgroupreviews
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtuous_circle_and_vicious_circle

Mark Pilgrim wrote:
> This reminds me of the classic quote from the economist Maynard
> Keynes: "In the long run, we are all dead."  In the general case,
> everything on the web is just 1s and 0s.  But there's millions of
> LiveJournal users who all have a profile page, hundreds of thousands
> of Typepad users who have an "about me" page, tens of thousands of
> company websites that have a "contact" page, and 40,000 Avon ladies
> who have a personal homepage with their contact information.  Lots of
> people maintain address books, and lots of people post contact
> information.  Wouldn't it be nice if just a few of them marked up
> their contact information with hCard?
> Microformats are about finding commonalities (even in "the long tail",
> especially in "the long tail") -- things lots of people are *already
> doing anyway* -- and making them 1% better to get 1000% more out of
> them.  If three people in the world post a picture of their albino cat
> jumping over a fence while wearing a sombrero, I don't think we need a
> microformat for that -- both because no one is doing it, and because
> there's no value in finding it.  If 10,000 people started doing it
> *and* there was a sudden upsurge of interest in distinguishing
> pictures of fence-jumping sombrero-wearing albino cats from pictures
> of fence-jumping fedora-wearing albino cats, I'd think about maybe
> marking it up in some common way.

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