Understanding Microformats – Interview with Jeri Hastava and Emily Lewis

Practical Microformats

Microformats are HTML-based design patterns that add semantic meaning to common web content. More than semantics, though, microformats have a wide range of benefits, including findability, standards compliance and extensible data publishing. And they are used by some of the biggest sites on the web today.

In this nine minute audio podcast WOW’s roving reporter Jeri Hastava, Leap of Faith Web Design, Jeri asks Emily Lewis, Freelance Web Designer, Author, Speaker, Microformats Devotee, Usability & Accessibility Advocate about Microformats including detail about the hCard microformat for contact information and the hCalendar microformats for events. The interview also discusses benefits, tools and resources, but the focus will be on the practical application of microformats using semantic markup (POSH: Plain Old Semantic HTML).

According to Wikipedia, a microformat (sometimes abbreviated ?F) is a web-based approach to semantic markup which seeks to re-use existing HTML/XHTML tags to convey metadata and other attributes in web pages and other contexts that support (X)HTML, such as RSS. This approach allows software to process information intended for end-users (such as contact information, geographic coordinates, calendar events, and the like) automatically.

Although the content of web pages is technically already capable of “automated processing”, and has been since the inception of the web, such processing is difficult because the traditional markup tags used to display information on the web do not describe what the information means.[2] Microformats can bridge this gap by attaching semantics, and thereby obviate other, more complicated, methods of automated processing, such as natural language processing or screen scraping. The use, adoption and processing of microformats enables data items to be indexed, searched for, saved or cross-referenced, so that information can be reused or combined.

As of 2010 microformats allow the encoding and extraction of events, contact information, social relationships and so on. More are being developed.


Microformats emerged as part of a grassroots movement to make recognizable data items (such as events, contact details or geographical locations) capable of automated processing by software, as well as directly readable by end-users. Link-based microformats emerged first. These include vote links that express opinions of the linked page, which search engines can tally into instant polls.

As the microformats community grew[when?], CommerceNet, a nonprofit organization that promotes electronic commerce on the Internet, helped sponsor and promote the technology and support the microformats community in various ways. CommerceNet also helped co-found the Microformats.org community site.

Neither CommerceNet nor Microformats.org operates as a standards body. The microformats community functions through an open wiki, mailing list, and Internet relay chat (IRC) channel. Most of the existing microformats were created at the Microformats.org wiki and the associated mailing list, by a process of gathering examples of web publishing behaviour, then codifying it. Some other microformats (such as rel=nofollow and unAPI) have been proposed, or developed, elsewhere.

The phrase “plain old semantic HTML” has been found online as early as 1998, but the coinage of the acronym POSH used in connection with microformats occurred in April 2007 on the microformats irc channel.{[fact}} Semantic HTML focuses on the use of tags and attributes for semantic rather than presentational purposes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.