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Microformats

One area of possible development for the Aberdeenshire Council website I’d be interested in is adding microformat code into suitable pages. A microformat is a convention for adding information to a web page. The idea is that, as the information conforms to a set format, software can identify and process the information appropriately. It makes the information machine readable.

For example, if we had a page to advertise the Taste of Grampian Food Festival we could outline the relevant information using microformats as :

Taste of Grampian

Saturday 6th June
09:30-16:30

Thainstone Centre
more information

Contact Details

Thainstone Centre
Inverurie
AB51 5XZ
Phone: 01467 623700

The underlying code code for the above section is :

<div class="vevent">
<h1 class="summary">Taste of Grampian</h1>
<abbr class="dtstart" title="2009-06-06T09:30">Saturday 6th June</abbr>
<abbr class="dtend" title="2009-06-06T16:30">09:30-16:30</abbr>
<abbr class="location" title="Thainstone Centre"></abbr>
<div class="geo">Thainstone Centre<abbr class="latitude" title="57.257254"></abbr><abbr class="longitude" title="-2.374635"></abbr>
<a class="url" href="http://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/events/detail.asp?eventID=1327">more information</a>
</div>
<div class="vcard">
<h2 class="summary">Contact Details</h2>
<div class="fn org">Thainstone Centre</div>
<div class="adr">
<div><span class="locality">Inverurie</span></div>
<div><span class="postal-code">AB51 5XZ</span></div><br />
<div>Phone: <span class="tel">01467 623700</span></div>
<div>Email: <span class="email"><a href="mailto:food.and.drink@aberdeenshire.gov.uk">food.and.drink@aberdeenshire.gov.uk</a></span></div>
</div>

It uses two microformats, hCalendar for the event information and hCard for the contact details. Additionally this also includes location information using the geo microformat.

<div class="vcard">
<h2 class="summary">Contact Details</h2>
<div class="fn org">Thainstone Centre</div>
<div class="adr">
<div><span class="locality">Inverurie</span></div>
<div><span class="postal-code">AB51 5XZ</span></div><br />
<div>Phone: <span class="tel">01467 623700</span></div>
<div>Email: <span class="email"><a href="mailto:food.and.drink@aberdeenshire.gov.uk">food.and.drink@aberdeenshire.gov.uk</a></span></div>
</div>

This is all very well but what practical use can microformats be used for. One common way is the use of browser add-ons to read the information so that it can be used as required. Common add-ons are Operator for FireFox and Oomph for Internet Explorer. When you view a page containing microformats the add-ons allow you to save the event into a calendaring system, save the contact details into an address book and view the location in an online mapping system.

For example, viewing the above code with a FireFox – Operator combination produces the following :

Screenshot showing operator Contacts tab

Screenshot showing operator Contacts tab

Screenshot showing operator Events tab

Screenshot showing operator Events tab

Screenshot showing operator Locations tab

Screenshot showing operator Locations tab

The event details can be exported to a calendar program such as Outlook or saved to an online calendaring system such as Yahoo. Likewise the contact details can also be saved to Outlook or saved to an online system. Finally the location of the event can be viewed using a program like Google Earth or viewed online using an online mapping website.

The actions these browser add-ons allow are cetainly useful but would the number of people using them make the extra work adding microformat content to our website worthwhile. My own feeling  is that we could easily add microformat code to pages that are created dynamically but the work adding them by hand to individual pages wouldn’t be justifiable.

Inevitably, there are problems associated with microformats. The major problem is that some microformats use the <abbr> tag to hide machine readable code. This can cause accessibility problems for screen readers used by the visually impaired. This issue has caused the BBC to stop using these microformats as explained here. Also, microformats are probably only suitable for pages with a small number of events. If we wanted to supply a larger number of events an iCalendar file might be more appropriate.

I don’t think microformats are a long term solution but could be useful in the meantime until other approaches, such as embedded XML, are better supported.

So the question I am asking is, should we start using microformats on the Aberdeenshire Council website? I look forward to any feedback.

I don’t think microformats are a long term solution but could be useful in the meantime until other approaches, such as embedded XML, are better supported.

So the question I am asking is, should we start using microformats on the Aberdeenshire Council website? I look forward to any feedback.

Further information on microformats can be found at http://microformats.org/.

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