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Patrick Has a Wii, or, Experimenting with Microformats

My friend Patrick managed to get his hands on a Wii, and I am a bit jealous, to say the least. My own weekend Wii hunt did not go well, but I plan to persevere and head back out next weekend. Supposedly the Redmond Target is getting a bunch in on December 17th, so I’ll be standing in line if you want to join me.

However, this post is _really _meant to be about Microformats, an interesting little technology that allows you to add a bit more metadata to existing markup, ostensibly to provide a better way to work with that data and leverage it in unique ways. I learned about it at the Gilbane Conference a couple weeks ago, and I wanted to do some checking to make sure you could leverage them on your MOSS site if you wanted. Seems like you can, as this post suggests.

If you view this post in Firefox you’ll see a little icon next to Patrick’s picture above. This is done using CSS, but you won’t see it in IE because IE doesn’t support :before and :after. But anyway, this isn’t all that interesting, because I could already do that using CSS. What _is _interesting, however, is if you go to http://inside.glnetworks.de/2006/06/05/microformats- have-arrived-in-firefox-15-greasemonkey-06/ and download the Greasemonkey script there. Then return to this page, and you’ll see that miraculously the following menu has been added above Patrick’s name:

Nifty, huh? If you’re using that same Greasemonkey script you’ll also notice that the text above about standing in line to get a Wii at Target is an event that you can add to your calendar:

All of the data in the sentence I wrote is wrapped in some appropriate tags that a compatible client reader (Firefox + Greasemonkey script in this case) can parse out and act on. Plus, because it’s well-known markup, there’s a nice backwards compatibility story for downlevel clients. For example, looking at this page in IE is pretty boring, but stuff lights up when you use Firefox and the script.

Anyway, this all goes to show that there is a lot of opportunity for Microformats to take off if there’s better client support. Just consider RSS - now browsers inherently know how to read some markup in the header of the page and automatically detect RSS feeds on a page. It’s not hard to image a time when Firefox will include the functionality currently offered through the Greasemonkey script natively. Plus there’s some great tools already out there for dealing with this type of data. Just check out this link to Technorati, which will automatically parse out the hCards on this page and let you download them as vCards.

I could also write some code that runs on the server and outputs special JavaScript and CSS when Microformats are encountered. Then no client side support would be necesarry. I’ll be looking into this in the next few weeks. Anyway, I think there’s a lot of potential to include Microformats in more places on my site, so keep your eyes peeled.

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