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What is a Microformat?

By Derek Schauland
Updated May 17, 2024
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A Microformat cannot be defined as easily as something like a web browser, where there is a concrete definition of the object, but rather by its use. The concept of a Microformat might be best seen as a subset of an existing technology focusing on solving a specific problem or an open source data format that can be used to solve a problem. They are not defined as a specific piece of data, like a word processing document, but more for a problem they help to solve.

For example, xml is a specification for dealing with data. It provides a summary and some detail about the data it describes. This makes the data accessible by many more platforms and keeps it very loosely coupled with specific applications. The broad scope of xml does not make it a microformat, however a smaller subset of tools within xml might be a microformat. The microformat comes into play when a specific task is solved by using a smaller subset of existing tools.

Presentations are going online everyday, this makes them easier to view and extends their reach anywhere there is an Internet connection. The presentation could be bound to the usual means and viewed in a binary application such as Microsoft PowerPoint. It could also be formatted during the publication process to be optimized for the web using a subset of specifically defined xml tools for handling presentations; this would be called a presentation microformat.

It is easier to provide examples of a Microformat at work than to show a concrete definition because there are so many ways to use Microformats. Some in the open source community have created microformats for resumes and electronic business cards and blog feeds. The possibilities are really quite endless and will only continue to grow as the open source community expands.

It is easy to think of a Microformat as a new language to learn of programming to create, but they are not designed to work like a programming language or to need completely new tools. They will not work for everyone or every situation, but for some things they work exceedingly well. It remains to be seen just what the open source community and Internet users as a whole do with this highly indefinable technology.

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