Experimenting with Microformats

As we push towards a more semantic web overall, we are somewhat limited with XHTML in trying to describe what our information means to machines as well as humans.

With Microformats, we are given an approach to better describe our data through the use of standard XHTML markup.  With the following HTML: “<p>Joe Bloggs is a web developer at the University of Kent.</p>”, in a browser this can be easily interpretted by humans, but to a machine it is just a string with no particular meaning.

Through the use of Microformats we can help describe information better to machines, whilst ensuring that it is still presentable to users.  So the HTML could become:

“<p><span class=”fn”>Joe Bloggs</span> is a <span class=”role”>web developer</span> at the <span class=”org”>University of Kent</span>.</p>”

To a user this would still render the same in their browser, but now this string has semantic meaning which can be picked up by other websites, search engines and various methods to help with understanding and interpreting complex relationships and meanings.  Some of you may already have unwittingly used microformats already – one simple example of a microformat is the simple inclusion of ‘rel=”nofollow”‘, which when adding to an anchor tag will tell search engines not to take any notice of the link.

Although Microformats have been around for a while, they as a result are becoming more established and taken on board, and now Firefox 3 and IE8 are  starting to interpret them as a result.  It is believed that search engines are also taking specific note of them too…

For BCAD and overall, this will be the first time for using Microformats.  The opportunity arises as part of our investigation and implementation of  SEO for the new website as a whole.
As we are using a Drupal solution for the website, the first place to check was the vast library of modules available.  Sadly at present there are onlu small rumblings for proper integration and nothing that we can use out of the box unfortunately.  Ideally in the future, WYSIWYG editors such as FCKeditor/TinyMCE will have the ability to interpret or allow microformats to be easily embedded within written content without having to switch to a source code view of the HTML and manually having to enter them in.  Even better to have them automatically put into content where possible.  At present adding microformats is mostly left to developers to put in.

With no instant, out of the box solution with Drupal and to experiment in a short space of time, we will very quickly embed some basic microformats onto our copyright details where printed, using the hCard format and properties such as fn, nickname, photo, role etc.

As well as testing in the new browsers, it will be interesting to see how search engines such as Google interpret the content with their new semantic meanings.

Maybe it will be a useful addition for the redevelopment of GTW? 🙂


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