Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What Are Microformats And Why They Make Your Information Easier To Find

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What are Microformats?

Microformats are changing the web, and how your computer goes about finding things you ask for online. By standardizing chunks of data - events, business cards, listings, even recipes, Microformats create a more structured internet.

Photo credit: (c) Jon Tan

The upshot of this well-tagged, structured web is that when you want to find something - be it a hotel close to Oxford Street, London or an eBay merchant with great customer feedback, Microformats lend your search engine or aggregator a helping hand.

Why Microformats?

Microformats are small and inobtrusive, hence the name, and play nicely with the existing code that holds the internet together. By adding little snippets of standardized information to blog posts, address book entries, or anything else published online they make finding and sorting that data a whole lot easier.

Suddenly, instead of google turning up hotels in 'Oxford Street', New Jersey or guitar amplifiers that crank out 'great feedback', the better informed semantic web cuts through to what you're really looking for. And it does that in part thanks to Microformats.


At the heart of the semantic web is the creation of standards - universal means of pulling the important parts out of the web and delivering them to your desktop. One key idea in the world of standards is the Uniform Resource Idenfifier (or URI).

Put simply, a URI a way of uniquely identifying a person, a business, a building or even an idea in such a way that it can be linked to, aggregated and mined for information. Every time that uniquely identified item is mentioned in a blog, advertised on Craig's List, or reviewed in an online magazine, the same identifier is applied. Think of it as a tag or blog category recognized across the entire web.

Microformats are one way of creating these universally recognized standards. In his Microformats From the Ground Up presentation, Ryan King of Technorati lists the principles behind Microformats. They are:

  • Microformats "solve a specific problem". They are not a solution to the worlds ills, but to specific issues faced by web users.
  • Microformats are kept "as simple as possible". Their simple form follows their specific function.
  • Micrformats put "humans first, machines second". They need to be both machine readable and presentable to end users.
  • Microformats "reuse from widely adopted standards" such as (X)HTML. This makes them very easy to insert into exisiting web pages.
  • Microformats are designed for "modularity and embeddability". Serving their specific functions, microformats are easily embedded into content.

Photo credit: Luis Francisco Cordero

To date the list of Microformats being put to use online includes:

  • hCard
    hCard is a simple format used to represent people, companies, organizations and places. The most popular way of putting it to use is for storing personal details, which can then be searched or downloaded to your desktop address book.

    You can make your own hCard today with's hCard creator.

  • hCalendar
    hCalendar is to events and schedules what hCard is to personal details. Easing effective, standardized searching of events and schedules hCalendar has been put to use for conferences , world cup schedules and Yahoo's local events service, among many more.

    You can create your own hCalendar events at the hCalendar Creator.

  • hReview
    hReview is another Microformat, this time focused on embedding reviews of products, services, businesses or events. Among the sites using it at the moment are UK Film Review, Dinnerbuzz, a restaurant review site, and Cork'd, a wine reviewers community.

    You can create your own hReview using the hReview Creator.


You can also use Microformats to:

The future
Making the web an easier place to search, find and aggregate information is the concern of several developers, the Microformats group among them. While the semantic web is still very much a work in progress, we can expect to see a continuous growth in applications and interfaces that take advantage of these useful fragments of standardized information.

At the moment you can scour the web for microformatted data using Technorati's Microformats Search, and Yahoo has adopted several Microformats for its local business listings, Microformats are growing exponentially.

In the next few years, expect to see them invisibly integrated into your everyday web surfing and publishing activities ensuring that the right content finds its way onto the screens of the right people.

Elsewhere on the web

*Technorati's microformats search engine

*Yahoo takes on microformats

*A Microformats Primer from digital-web magazine (

*The home of the Microformats group

*Microformats - what the hell are they and why should I care?

*A concise summary of Microformats

*Plazes, dodgeball and Enterprise Microformats

*Wikipedia on Microformats

Michael Pick -
Readers' Comments    
2006-09-20 03:44:48

Geetha Krishnan

I just love the first two principles of microformats:

* Solve a specific problem
* Simple as possible

I do believe that they are strongly inter-related. If you nail the problem to its specifics, the solution is bound to be simple.

posted by Michael Pick on Wednesday, September 20 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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