Happy fourth birthday, real world semantics

Four years ago today, Tantek Çelik and Kevin Marks gave a presentation on real-world semantics. Working backwards from HTML extensions like XFN (created by Tantek, Matt Mullenweg, and Eric Meyer), the paper showed how designers and developers could add semantics to today’s web rather than starting from scratch or waiting for a “purer” markup language to bring us an “uppercase semantic web.”

As with ‘most all great ideas, the principles were simple and, in hindsight, profoundly obvious. Do what designers were already doing. Instead of toiling over new languages that might or might not get adopted, use existing (X)HTML elements such as rel and class, and agree on such things as common class names for simple things like relationship definitions.

On behalf of all web designers and developers, thank you, Tantek and friends, and happy birthday.

[tags]microformats, semantics, realworld, tantek, xfn, hcard, 4years[/tags]

11 thoughts on “Happy fourth birthday, real world semantics

  1. Microformats and their ilk definitely are a good idea, and I, too, congratulate everyone involved in their development on coming up with the concept.

    However, I can’t help but think it’s a little bit sad that four years in, we still have no significant apps consuming these microformats (by “significant apps,” I mean, “apps that my Mom would use”). I wonder if it’s not time to shift the focus from getting developers to include real-world semantics in their code over to getting the big boys (MS, Apple, etc.) on board with consuming these useful tidbits of structured data.

  2. I agree with Jeff, and I would also add that I would like to see some ui tools incorporate them into their app. I have drempt of a tool that uses assets like omnigraffle but also has markup attached to each asset. To make a long story short, a ui/ux person would actually be building semantic pages when creating wireframes. There is a lot more to it than that, but I think that explains the gist of it.

  3. To make a long story short, a ui/ux person would actually be building semantic pages when creating wireframes.

    Very interesting concept and we should be able to contact a manufacturer or two to make the case!

    Note, competent IAs who are also semantically clued-in don’t grow on trees. Such a tool, to succeed, would need to make wireframe semantics optional as well as user-editable (since probably no two of us would agree on _every_ semantic markup decision, and that doesn’t even take into account the complex and rich interaction between semantics and UX design).

  4. I agree; wireframes are wholly semantic. Along those lines, there’s a project out there called the “What You Mean Editor”. This is a very cool idea and brings up a really interesting contrast between how we create content on the web and how content authors across the industry created content using tools (like M$ Word) that really aren’t in touch with the semantic movement on the web. I’ve seen this a lot on client engagements.

  5. That was timely – this is the first thing I read having just returned to my desk after delivering a small presentation to some people at work about Microformats, including a potted history of how they came about. It didn’t even occur to me that it was a birthday. My, haven’t you grown?

  6. @jeff – it might be the case they already do. Use case, I posted my resume on my personal site and my results was very very bad (even though it was followed SEO basics), I switched to using a plugin that grabbed my linked-in resume (uses hresume microformat) and my resume and site shot up the charts.

    It may be the case they don’t acknowledge it, but it is my belief that it plays a part in their algorithm. Their latest social graph api acknowledges use of XFN so they are aware (I don’t any of us have any doubt of that).

  7. All of us our designers & marketers here… we all get this is lame, right? I’ve been an advocate and taught standards for years, I live it, sure, but never a parrot for the sake of it, and I’ve been around enough in the industry from print and up to never suggest such a trend to my clients. We’re not that out of touch, are we?

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