Posts Tagged ‘hCard’
I recently made Betterdot’s Contact Us page both human and machine readable by adding hCard microformat markup to the underlying XHTML. This notion of “machine readable” content is arguably abstract and somewhat obscure however. What do we mean? What do machines see? Perhaps a picture (or three) are worth the proverbial 1,000 words.
When a human reader, using a web browser, looks at the page, he or she sees this:
Without semantic markups such as the hCard microformat markup, a machine (for example a Google bot crawling the Betterdot site for indexing) sees this:
With semantic markups such as the hCard microformat markup, the same machine or bot sees this:
In Layman’s terms, microformats help machine “read” data marked up with microformat tags on the page. While “reading” falls short of true semantic “understanding”, microformats are certainly a step in the right direction.
Google recently and quietly announced something huge, “rich snippets”. Rich snippets are smart previews, displayed right on a search results page. While Google has long relied on snippets to attach a bit of information to each link (thus letting the user know what he or she might expect on each page represented by a link), rich snippets go a step further: they extract key characteristic of the page, be it a rating of a review or a person’s contact information. Google doesn’t have to guess it, it knows it. Google’s rich snippets are powered by microformats and RDFa, two semantic standards that are rapidly gaining adoption. Google’s implementation allows semantically-marked web content (such as reviews and contact information) to be exposed, aggregated and averaged in a Google search results page. In short, after years in the lab, the web is at last, albeit quietly, becoming semantic!
Microformats are not a substitute for the semantic web, they are a stepping stone and a very important one. They demonstrate the feasibility and value of adding semantic meaning to web page content. They do so using existing browsers and standards. They do so today, in the field not in the lab. By making web pages understandable to both humans (also known as readers…) and machines, using current technologies, current browsers and minimal effort, microformats allow web content to be reliably understood and aggregated by search engines. The future is bright. Google could, for example, calculate an average review for a book from a list of semantically compliant sites. Google could also uniquely identify a user as a single human being across sites. The semantic web, a web of meaning, is finally taking shape.
I am convinced the semantic web is going to change the way we publish content, exchange, correlate and aggregate information, both in the public domain and the enterprise. It’s an exciting time for web professionals who can look forward to building companies and next generation systems that leverage semantic data.
In Toronto and interested in the semantic web? Join us at the Toronto Semantic Web group on LinkedIn.