Microformats. Big Things In Small Packages?

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MicroformatsDon’t let the name fool you. Although “micro” may accurately describe the amount of effort it takes to add these to your Web pages, microformats will make a big impact on information sharing on the Web.

A microformat is semantic mark up that is added to an (X)HTML document to give meaning to particular data on the page. In most cases, this mark up is in the form of common class names. This gives other applications the ability to classify information that already exists on the page.

Just what kind of data can be marked up with microformats?

Currently, microformats can be used for:

  • contact information (think vCards)
  • events (think Google calendar, iCalendar, etc.)
  • Atom feeds
  • reviews (product, movie, music, etc.)
  • resumes
  • discouraging posted spam
  • tagging
  • lists
  • social relationships

In the works are microformats for citations and currency among others. Imagine how online shopping could be affected if you could use the power of microformats to compare prices real time.

For most business-oriented websites, the two to focus on would be contact information and events, which would allow your tech-savvy site users to add that information to their address books and calendars without copy/paste acrobatics.

Now let’s ground this in some reality.

This is currently a fringe technology and not widely supported—yet. It’s as RSS was a few years ago. The early adopters had to find and install RSS aggregators. As it became more mainstream, browsers like Firefox and Safari began to support it, and eventually with the release of Internet Explorer 7, everyone could subscribe to RSS feeds within a click or two.

Microformats are in that early stage. For you to be able to access microformats right now, you’ll need to be proactive and find the tools to use. If you use Firefox (and you should for many reasons), and want a peek into the future you can download the Operator extension for it.

Firefox already has plans for microformat integration in Firefox 3, and you can be sure that Microsoft will follow. Once that happens, microformats will become mainstream and people will get frustrated when they are not supported, forcing them to copy and paste the information they want.

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