HTML used to semantically describe what information looks like. HTML is now leaving the styling of information up to Cascading Style Sheets and is becoming more interested in describing what the data is. There are tags to let the browser know what information is a header, paragraph, list, etc. Microformats take the concept of describing data up a notch. Microformats are pieces of semantic data embedded into HTML that uses existing standards to describe what the information is. Once a user agent (such as a web browser) knows what certain pieces of data are, it can export the data to a more appropriate context. In this article we’re going to look at two microformats in particular: hCard, hCalendar.
I’ve already mentioned what you can do with information marked up with hCalendar, so let’s look at rel-tag. Rel-tag is simply marking up up the â€œrelâ€ property of a hyperlink with the value â€œtag.â€ Once Operator knows that the link is a tag, it can then look for that same tag at sites like flickr, technorati, and del.icio.us. A common use for tags is looking up additional information about something you’re reading. Blog posts for example are usually tagged, so people can find pictures on flickr, related blog posts on technorati, or related sites on del.icio.us.
Let’s take a moment to recap and see why we like microformats and operator. For one we don’t have to input data ourselves. Since the data is already online we’re simply copying it to our application of choice. With this comes the advantage of actions becoming point and click. If you want to add an event to your Google Calendar, you point and click on the add to Google Calendar option. Pretty simple.
One area that can benefit from microformats is the cell phone market. I’ve already written about the iPhone as a microformat killer-app, but I wanted to expand this idea to include both cellular phones and internet-enabled PDAs. Cell phones and PDAs both have notoriously horrible input interfaces. Don’t you dread typing out a long text message, let alone trying to search for something on a cell phone browser? What about trying to write something out in Graffiti? What if these devices had the point and click ease of use that operator has? With REAL browsers coming to next-gen cell phones such as the iPhone, I see no reason why microformats shouldn’t be a part of this market. Imagine adding a person’s contact information into your cell phone via their hCard. You have all of the information you need about them ready to and be entered into your cell phone at the tap of a stylus. The same can be said about events and adding it to your calendar application on your cell phone or PDA.
With these smaller devices, ease of input usually suffers. In this case microformats make a great alternative to user input and can help overcome these shortcomings. It really can be just as easy as point and click.