05 Apr 2007


Last night’s Sussex Geek dinner featured Glenn Jones with a presentation on Microformats. I learned a lot in a short space of time.

My previous impression of microformats was that it was a kludgy way to piggyback contact and event details into HTML—clever and useful, admittedly, but a kludge nonetheless. But I was totally wrong. I recommend grabbing the PDF presentation and taking a look for yourself, but it turns out the attributes used to mark-up XHTML with contact details and the like are, for want of a better word, legitimate. For example, using the class attribute to identify a name of a person is fine: the XHTML spec describes class as good for pretty much any use: “The class attribute can be used for different purposes in

XHTML, for instance as a style sheet selector (when an author wishes to assign style information to a set of elements), and for general purpose processing by user agents.” Ah, so it’s not just for CSS. Ok.

Adding to that are a couple more appealing features: the specs are short, look pretty straightforward to start using, and are based on existing standards such as vcard. The details are over at microformats.org. I’ll add “hReview-ifying book write-ups” to my to do list…one day….

For me the most interesting part of the talk was idea of designing URLs so they look like API calls. The example given was along the lines of: http://somesite/tag/creative can be thought of as somesite.tags.getList("creative"). That works for me, and is probably a good rule of thumb for designing URLs. The tricky part comes with queries: how to incorporate do ANDs, ORs, ranges, etc. One option might be to use a builder pattern, such as /tags/creative/startingWith/c interpreted as tags.getList("creative").startingWith("c"). Another option would be convention where by the order of the elements of the URL have a meaning and you just need to know it. The example there would be http://traintimes.org.uk/brighton/london/08:30 means “list trains from Brighton to London, leaving Brighton at 08:30”. Stuff to ponder.

Indeed, the evening left me with plenty of stuff to ponder: How does this relate to RSS? How does this tie up with RESTful web services. Stuff to ponder is a good sign, BTW.

Now we all need to go play with the Operator plugin for Firefox.

UPDATE: 19 April 2007, via Jeremy’s twitterings, Picoformats look interesting.

Disclaimer: Glenn Jones was founder and Creative Director at Madgex, which was Jane’s new employer at the time of writing.