Microformats Made Simple

*** Mar272010

I like books. I like reading them; I like having them; I like remembering something I saw in them once and going back to check it out. Some might question why the world needs books on web design, when “all the information is on the web”. In a sense, that is the problem: all the information is on the web. A well-written book doesn’t present you with all the information, just the good stuff. And even the best-designed online web design mag has myriad distractions compared to the clean, unclickable pages of a book.

That said, I think Microformats is one topic that isn’t yet ready for the bound-and-printed format. Microformats are a moving target. Despite having been around since the early 2000’s, and being embraced by major search engines, they have yet to be widely implemented. Furthermore, with the adoption of HTML5 and its Microdata section, the markup for Microformats will surely be changing. Additionally, there just isn’t that much to them. After making the case for the SEO and data-exchange benefits, all that’s really left to do is lay out the specifications for each format. While I agree with author Emily P. Lewis that the language on microformats.org, for example, can be overly techy and impenetrable, I think an e-book or even a more layman-friendly website might have done the job. However, I imagine physical book is helpful in spreading awareness of Microformats to everyday developers (like me), and give them permanency and legitimacy in their eyes.

After an “Introduction to Microformats”, Ms. Lewis starts with the simplest Microformats such as rel and rev, and moves on in later chapters to the more complex, compound formats such as hcalendar and hreview. In general, each format is clearly explained, along with possible benefits, practical examples, and authoring and search tools. Some of the examples seem overly verbose, with a lot of repeated html code, but I think the author’s goal of making Microformats straightforward and approachable is achieved.

Conclusion

If you’re very keen to dive head-first into the world of Microformats and get up and running quickly, this book is a good buy. If you just want to enhance your links with rel attributes, or add hcard to your contact page, I would save your money, and seek out the information online.

Also see my review of the 2007 book Microformats: Empowering Your Markup for Web 2.0 by John Allsopp.

End Notes: My Beefs with Microformats

Obviously, I can’t fault the author for shortcomings in Microformats themselves, and this probably isn’t the right venue to air my complaints, but I’m going to do it anyway.

No extra markup?

A farce. Let’s say I was marking up an event, sans microformats. For the start time I might do something like:

<span class="date-time-start">Friday, June 30th at 7pm</span>

Now I get that this is human-readable, but not particularly machine-readable. However, I will point out that when I receive an email with such a time and date in Mac’s Mail program, it has no problem picking it out, and allowing me to easily add it to iCal, no markup required. But, to mark this up with microformats, we would adjust the class and add an empty span like so:

<span class="dtstart">
<span class="value-title" title="2010-06-30T19:00:00"> </span>
Friday, June 30th at 7pm
</span>

Internationalization?

For a technology that is supposed to improve internationalization, some odd choices have been made about attributes and values. For example, while hcard titles and roles can be anything you want (presumably in any language), there is a limited set of valid XFN values (p. 62) which includes “crush” and “muse”, but no “grandmother” or “hermano” or “professor”. Why should xfn values be limited to this small set of English words?

Generic to a Fault

Granted, the hrecipe a draft spec, but for now the authors have foregone the common terms “quantity” and “units” for the totally non-descriptive terms “value” and “type”. I assume this is in an effort to remain as generic and multi-use as possible, but I think this is the wrong approach if the Microformats evangelists want this markup to be widely adopted by content authors.

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Author(s)Emily P. Lewis
PublisherNew Riders Press
Pages312
Published2010
ISBN-100321660773
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