Up until recently I had been struggling with understanding microformats, those mysterious formats built in XHTML that several folks have been talking about passionately: promising everything from better search engine visibility to better structured code to a realization of true semantic markup. The reason for my struggles was that there were few actual examples of their utility, hCard, hCalendar, and Bud Gibson’s xFolk being interesting exceptions. The recent release of microformats.org drew a lot of interest, and since lately I’ve been taking a longer look at them, I decided to write a short introduction to the topic from my developer point of view, coming to the conclusion that microformats don’t offer enough incentives to jump on the bandwagon quite yet.
A Short Introduction to Microformats: a Stepping Stone on the Way to Semantic Markup, or a Distraction from It? (June 24th 2005)
Two years later, and microformats have matured, with formats that have specific purpose. Bar a few that border on hybrid data/design formats (XOXO), it is a subject that generally has managed to avoid hype machines. There is still misunderstanding about usage, for example many sites use RSS, OPML, Atom and XML options for feeds that contain exactly the same content, in different data formats. Each microformat has purpose.
APML is newer format (visit facebook group), which makes sense in semantic web terms.
“Attention Profiling Markup Language”
All forms of Attention Data (from age old breadcrumbs like documents, browser history and IM conversations to more recent advances in Attention Data encapsulation like Attention.XML) are the raw building blocks that allow developers to track a user’s behaviour.
Imagine how easy it could be to visit a site like Digg or slashdot, and upload the apml file with all your browsing history and preferences, that have relevant content fed to you. At the end of your site browsing session, you can choose whether to export your apml with additions made by your current browsing. The user has an easier time, and more importantly retains the power to choose.
Most of the methods put forward as services contributing for a more intellgent web rely on centralisation and control of userrdata. What should be happenning is voluntary contribution of user information, that is easy read and manipulated by any web applications. APML is a format to save preferences in, similar but more flexible than the attention.xml format. There are other formats that cover most useful user data, go here to see more.
Though many balk at standards, feeling them to be yet another control freak measure, semantic web standards such as microformats retain the freedom on the web, and to provide informations to enable web applications to find and process that information quickly. I work in QA, and usually against much resistance that see QA processes as constrictive, but it is all about attitude. Sometimes processes and standards can help alleviate the stresses that chaos can bring. Although chaos is a positive force in development, it can be very destructive when it is applied to pure data.