…Miles of semantic markup before microformats

So I’m in need of a standard way of linking from a person’s profile to their external photos, blogs, vlogs, things and so on. Especially since I intend to use as the foundation for usual information (name, email, homepage, etc), rel=me (from ) and for marking up the list of links.

Now, I went into the Microformats IRC channel to ask for some guidance (the source of this post’s title, via teh Ryanz0r) and got shot down big time. Well, not like that was surprising since I know most of the guys in there personally and they don’t take me all that seriously, but still…!

Anyway, in discussing my use case and proposing some new values for “rel=” (like, ‘photos’, ‘videos’, ‘tasklist’, etc), Ryan made an interesting point about the development of microformats that I think a lot of folks would do well to consider: the achievement of becoming a microformat isn’t an end-all, be-all that one need aspire to. Rather, standardizing and codifying existing behavior requires anthropological attention and patience to what emerges over time.

Interestingly, this is how law develops and how standards that survive and are adopted are developed (I would wager this is true most of the time — consider mp3). I’ve even proposed a solution to a problem I’ve seen repeating itself with my Community Marks idea — the hope in this case is that enough communities will run into this problem that the idea will take off, over time.

So this post is about the microformats process and how it actually works. Just because we’ve knocked off a good dozen in its first year doesn’t mean the next dozen are going to come right away or be obvious. The point is not to guess at a microformat and try to win, instead, just start doing something if nothing that fits what you need exists. Over time, a standard will emerge that can be codified into a microformat.

In my case, I’ll probably use rel="me photos" to link to someone’s Flickr stream, rel="me tasks" for someone’s tasks and rel="me favorites" for favorites. If it gets picked up, awesome. If not, I’ve got a solution that I can use for now until some standard behavior emerges.

And that seems quintessentially inline with the microformats process.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: Molly.com (YC W18), Uber, Google.

9 thoughts on “…Miles of semantic markup before microformats”

  1. Hey – it’s a start. You should definitely consider adding your ideas to the microformats wiki – it would at least give us something to discuss and potentially test implementing.

  2. I think you’ve got it right here, Chris.

    The point that’s often missed is that microformats are an outgrowth of a movement that’s been going on for quite some time, away from presentational markup on the web towards structural, semantic markup.

    Microformats are an extension of that movement which codifies regularities discovered in people doing all this semantics/structure work.

    Oh, and come on, where’s my credit for the quote, “there’s miles of semantic markup before microformats.”

  3. @ Lloyd: fixed

    @ Ber: sure, but the purpose and development process of Microformats are different. Microformats don’t aim to boil the ocean and get everyone to agree. It’s kind of like a dictionary for common behaviors: “since 7 out 10 people use this class for marking up this kind of content, we’ll use it as the standard”. In that way it’s similar to being able to go to a dictionary to see how people spell things like potato or Iditarod. You’re free to stray from the norm, but at least with microformats, you’ve got a place to start from — additionally using technology available today (XHTML 1.0).

  4. @factoryjoe
    yes, i love that route 🙂 In fact, I am a recent microformat adept. Still, I think that dictionaries are still built on top of (silly?) grammatic rules, set by grammar fetishist. Yes, they are people in grey suits, bending over silly Engrish technicalities (I guess Dutch are much worse in that then UKers, let alone USspeakers). Stilll those laws manage to set standars, which are so extremely important to make up our communication. There would be no 1337 14nGu4g3 without proper well define enlish grammar laws.

    In other words: yes, Oasis is a bunch of grey suits. People setting very technical (yet not very practical) laws on how we shoulod order our information.
    Still they manage very well to make up good standards, standards where folks like those behind microformats shhouls at least strive towards.

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