Microformats: Empowering Your Markup for Web 2.0

Reviewed April 18th, 2007 @ 07:25PM

[Book Cover] Microformats: Empowering Your Markup for Web 2.0

Microformats: Empowering Your Markup for Web 2.0 by John Allsopp is an incredible resource for learning Microformats. I didn’t know what to expect with this book, as part of me wondered how someone could take over 300+ pages to talk about Microformats. Truth be told — this book was very in-depth from cover to cover. Microformats are still in their infancy, being just a few years old. However, as we see throughout this book — there are many big players who are staking ground in the value and use of Microformats. I recently read HTML Mastery which scratched the surface of the power of Microformats. I would consider this book The Official Guide To Microformats with all of the information available. Here is a brief glimpse of what is found in this resource:

The book is broken down into 5 parts, but I will look over each chapter individually.

  • Chapter 1 answers the question “What are Microformats?” This is a thorough introduction to Microformats, the semantic web, the benefits of using Microformats — as well as it’s origins, definition, and principles. The principles include:

    1. Solve a specific problem.
    2. Start as simply as possible.
    3. Are designed for humans first, machines second.
    4. Reuse building blocks from widely adopted standards.
    5. Are modular and embeddable.
    6. Enable and encourage decentralized development, content, and services.

    These are vital to the heart of Microformats. Though the web is aspiring to be semantic — we still have many problems to solve to help out our machine friends in the process of making sense of our language.

  • Chapter 2 gives us some quick snapshot views into how Microformats are currently being used. Discussions of browsers, their support, and their future. It is exciting to see the possibilities of Microformats being built into the browsers — since they are decentralized they will allow us to find things much easier (and make sense of those things). There are currently many tools available to aid a developer in creating the necessary markup and structure for formats. It is important to note that Microformats are not a new language, but are simply built onto already existing XHTML. The author presents the chicken and egg struggle and where Microformats are already being used in the wild. A few of those include, Yahoo, Cork’d and Apple. Not only are there early adopters on board, but there are services to help people make sense of the content. A few of these services include Technorati and Pingerati. These services all you to generate vCards from your properly formatted hCards. It also allows you to submit your site for Microformats searching. These are some powerful tools that will only continue to expand and grow.

  • Chapter 3 discusses the necessary foundation to create Microformats — Semantic HTML. The author discusses the days of the web where HTML was wrongly turned into a presentational language. HTML is a structure. It is semantic. It gives meaning to your documents. Your presentation layer belongs in your CSS (most developers will know this, unless they are living under a rock). He discusses some of the not-so-popular HTML elements, as well as elaborating on their proper use and placement in a page. This chapter ends with the fact that HTML has its limits. There simply aren’t enough tags for us to complete many of our common tasks (with semantics in mind). This is where Microformats come in.

  • Chapter 4 is where we start to get our feet wet. We are introduced to Link-Based Microformats. I won’t elaborate on each, but a few of these include rel-license, rel-tag, and rel-nofollow. These are embedded in — you guessed it — links.

  • Chapter 5 takes your relationship a step further. Here we discuss XFN. If you have used any blogging software then you have most likely come into contact with this. This is defining your relationships based on the rel attribute. There are many relationships that can be defined, and several more that are planned to be added. This chapter shows some of the services already utilizing XFN, as well as how you can use the rel attribute and CSS attribute selectors to style your content. Lean, semantic, markup.

  • Chapter 6 looks to geo and adr Microformats. Geo is related to defining your location via latitude and longitude. We are also introduced to a new design pattern: abbr. The adr format is used to markup addresses. These two Microformats used together have added rich value to applications such as Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, and Flickr. Again, we are given some examples of styling these elements using their attributes as hooks.

  • Chapter 7 takes use a little deeper with hCard. hCard reuses the already established format of vCard used in many applications today. Both individual persons and organizations were discussed. Again, we are introduced to services currently using hCard, as well as several different ways to style our hCard using the given hooks.

  • Chapter 8 helps us to get our dates in order with hCalendar. Again, hCalendar extends from vcalendar (used in many applications like Outlook and Address Book) Both basic and complex events were discussed here. I like how we have the ability to add a calendar to a page and add multiple events to a specific calendar. This shows just how flexible Microformats are. We also get to see a complex example of a timeline marked up in a table. Here we see how Microformats utilizes the semantic markup to achieve specific tasks. Using axis, scope, and headers allow us to create an accessible table — while also reaping the benefits of vevent. We get a glimpse of the tools available to help you construct hCalendars, as well as services currently using the hCalendar format.

  • Chapter 9 brings us to a few items in draft format, hReview and hResume. Though they are drafts, they are very solid and can be implemented in their current state. These items allow for great flexibility as we can use compound Microformats (just as we can use compounded XHTML elements). hReview has it’s core, but certain elements allow for extensions of hCard, rel-tag and rel-license. Again, very powerful ways to build your Microformats into your pages. As with the other chapters, hooks were shown and some basic styling instructions were given.

  • Chapter 10 discusses hAtom. This doesn’t seem to be as widely used as the other Microformats we have seen — but there is still great value for syndication and publishing (alongside RSS).

  • Chapters 11 and 12 show Microformats in the wild with 2 case studies: Cork’d and Yahoo!. These chapters featured interviews with Dan Cederholm as well as Nate Koechley. Cork’d is a relatively new application with Microformats attached from the beginning. Designer Dan Cederholm discusses how and why they chose to use Microformats (and when) in their application. Moving up the scale to a larger organization, Yahoo! is utilizing Microformats in many of their major applications including Upcoming.org and Flickr. These case studios show how many organizations are starting to take hold of Microformats, and how simple the process really is to reap the benefits of your semantic structure.

  • Chapter 13 and the Appendixes discuss how to get involved with Microformats. The goal is to have a decentralized service, so Microformats are not as closed as other formal standards are. They are open to more developments as long as they stand in line with the principles behind the foundation. The appendixes give a full listing of all Microformats, Design Patterns, and the People and Services using Microformats in their applications. The appendixes are extremely valuable to have as a resource as you begin your journey with Microformats.

I have had a passion for Microformats for the past 6 months or so. I started researching and really diving in to understand the goals. I was immediately able to see the benefits — but there was still the chicken and the egg question that was in the back of my mind. I don’t feel this question is even necessary anymore, as I move ahead utilizing Microformats (and building applications to utilize them) in my development of websites. They don’t take long to put in place as they go hand in hand with a solid HTML structure. So I guess the only question is: why wouldn’t you use them?

This book was a great read, and will continue to be used as a great resource.