[uf-discuss] Format-of-Formats?

Joe Reger, Jr. regerj at gmail.com
Thu Mar 30 15:01:25 PST 2006

> before having the arrogance to think they can do better.

I'm not proposing that we create a replacement for XML Schema or any
of the other great technologies out there... just that we agree on one
as the "most frequently used, most standard, most common, baseline,
generally accepted but not perfect" way to describe a microformat.

As you note, there are a lot of ways to crack this nut.  And this is
the fact that I'm having trouble with.  Toolmakers, aggregators and
innovators are having a tough time with microformats because each new
one that pops up requires custom code.  Instead of taking a leadership
role, choosing one and advocating adoption, you seem to revel in the
establishment of many microformats.  I'm questioning where the
customization should be... at the user level where apps are
differentiated?  Or at the format level?

Why should each format have to start at ground zero, write custom
plugins, force users to install them and then gain adoption?  Why
should Technorati have to write custom code at  the format level for
each format (of course it needs to write custom code at the business
logic layer... that's how we all differentiate).  If we agree to a
framework, even with all of the limitations of whatever framework we
choose, aren't we helping users use microformats more?

What about the people from National Geographic who want to set up a
format to track wildlife?  Should they have to understand XML Schema
to take part in the microformat revolution?  And what about the people
in middle Iowa who like to count hay stacks?  Should they have to
learn arcane programming languages just to define a two field
microformat (hay stack color, hay stack size)?

I understand your desire to not standardize on a definition language. 
Because doing so will inherently create limitations to what can be
done.  And some things just can't be done with a basic approach.  And
those things that gain massive adoption probably shouldn't be done
with a simple approach.

I'm talking about the long tail of microformats... who's looking out
for all those users?

Users are crying out, on this very mailing list, every single day for
an easier way to create and use microformats.

Maybe we should see microformats.org as the high-end solution with the
flexibility to cover everything. But I think we also need a
microformats Light that enables most of the functionality that most of
the people are looking for.

In the last 5 days I've seen these microformats proposed:
Bookmark Exchange Format
Attention Microformat
Citation Format
Plants Format
Work of Art

Following this list you see these requests all the time.  This week's
performance would predict 260 microformats in a year.  And really, if
somebody's posting to this mailing list they're probably hyper-plugged
in to geekland.  If we think about our users... the millions of people
we rely on to make all of our geeky stuff actually useful... how many
formats do you think are out there with pent-up demand?

I'd say... um...  a lot.

And how many formats has microformats.org created/sanctioned so far
throughout its history?  I see nine specs.  Eleven drafts.  Thirty
seven exploratory discussions.

That's 21% of the requested formats we're seeing on this board.  And
I'd argue that it's about .01% of the total number of microformats
that our users would like to see and be able to use.  Think of all of
the hobbies out there... all of the interest groups... they all track
custom data of some sort.  Sure, we don't care about that data type...
but it's their life... they're passionate about it.  Who's serving
them?  Who's enabling them?  Who's letting them publish so that smart
entrepreneurs can leverage that data into the next aggregation

To me this user-oriented analysis paints an obvious argument for a
format-of-formats.  The current microformat mailing list and developer
community is doing great work but it's not supporting the users who
want a quicker means of creating and using microformats.  I could be
wrong on this... please prove me so.

Microformats should be the plumbing and grease for this thing we all
(begrudgingly) call Web 2.0.

I want to be clear on one thing:  I love the work being done on
microformats.org.  It is truly valuable and innovative.  The process
and ideals are wonderful. The people doing the work are collaborative
and productive.  I am in no way against what's being done.  And I
appreciate and completely understand Tantek's strong desire to squash
my ideas quickly before I distract people from the work already being

I simply see a big gaping hole in what's being done today.  What I've
been told is essentially that I can take my hole and go play
elsewhere.  I don't like hearing that, but there's likely little I can
or should do about it.  If the users and readers of this list don't
agree with my ideas and proposals then I should be kicked off.  I
promise I won't be a nuisance.

But before I go I'd like to ask everybody whether they agree with me
in principle:  do you think that creating and using microformats
should be easier for the average user?  If so, do you think that a
format-of-formats approach would be helpful wherein a user can simply
define ten quick fields with XML, upload the file to their blog server
and start blogging?

Because there's nothing technically challenging about this proposal. 
As replies to my message have pointed out there are already numerous
technologies that do this.  All we need to do is choose one and
advocate toolmaker adoption/plugin development (movable type, live
journal, drupal, etc).  Choosing and advocating is the issue here...
not technology.  Something is better than nothing to fill this
microformat long tail void.

The ability for users to quickly define formats and use them to
collaborate, meet, find and innovate is a critical next step.  I'd
like to help it happen.  Here or elsewhere.  Hopefully here with the
support of you, the people who actually understand this stuff.

> I'm working on some extensions for
> includes
> (to transclude multiple XMDP profiles or portions thereof into a single
> profile), but other than that, I consider XMDP "done".

Interesting.  I'd enjoy looking at these.  Heck, maybe XMDP is exactly
the sort of format-of-formats that I'm looking for.  If so, and if
you're still actively developing it, why am I arrogant for asking
whether something like it exists?

> The *one* exception that I know of to this that adherents have had (at
least) some amount of success with is RDF.

Ok, so that's another possible answer to my original question.  Yes,
RDF is an option.  Again, why am I arrogant for asking about something
that has had "some amount of success"?

Sorry for the intrusion today.  Let me know if you're interested in
working on a format-of-formats with me.  I've already received a
number of kind private messages from people who say this is exactly
what they're interested in seeing.


Joe Reger

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