I keep up on developments in web design and semantic data structuring, so when I saw the rss version of http://www.thinkvitamin.com/features/design/how-to-use-microformats, I went and read the whole thing outside of my feed reader. I was hoping the article would clear up a few bothersome questions I’ve got about micro formats, but alas, disappointment.
It’s a decent article on why micro formats should exist. And it’s well written. Except for a couple snafus in the examples, I have no problem with it. But it’s not convincing me.
So I’m writing out my pessimistic but honest questions in hopes of garnering some discussion. I have to admit at the outset that I’m leaning toward using microFormats where applicable, but I’m in no hurry to recode anything to add them. I want more benefit than just the web-cred from other snobby coders who’d recognize that they’re present. I don’t care much for web-cred.
I understand what they are: unobtrusive, machine and human readable formats for data that allow organization of information such that it can be intelligently parsed automatically. A block of text that shows an address can be accurately parsed by a computer for city, state, postal code, etc. The semantic seraphim will smile down upon the author. Halos and glory for everyone. yadda2.
I see the merit to that… IF there are systems that capitalize on it. But as far as I know, there aren’t. And in the case of hCard (the address micro format), I don’t see why there should be. I’ll explain.
Google already does a pretty accurate job of parsing out addresses from web sites. If it’s spidered my local pizza place’s web site (heh, ok… I’m surprised they even have one), poof! They’re Google findable, with address and phone number.. Look at the source code on Pizza Bucket’s web page. No hCard. In fact, it’s pretty freaking ugly source code. But Google got it perfectly.
There’s not an address search aspiring web idea that doesn’t have to compete with Google. So they’ll have to pay for the data, or parse the same nasty code Google does. hCards should would make that easier… but they already have to go the extra mile because most addresses on the web don’t use hCard, so it doesn’t matter, does it?
(er, okay… mea culpa: Google probably contracted an address service to get that data instead of parsing the address from the web page itself. But the example still applies.)
What’s in it for me?
Ah, my pessimism shines through. If I had one address block of information to maintain, the geek honor of having used an hCard would be reward enough. But I have about 30 I can think of, and more that I can’t remember. Why should I go update them? They’ve already been found. They’re already available. What value does my company derive from paying me to alter — not how their addresses are shown, but how they’re coded?
I’ve seen the case for good urls made: SEO benefits, semantic benefits, etc. I’ve seen the argument for semantic markup made: Displays well out of style/js browsers, easier to migrate to mobile, etc.
I haven’t seen the case for micro formats effectively argued yet, other than the notion of breaking out of walled gardens. And I like that argument… but nobody will pay for it because there’s no value to it yet.
So I’m a pessimist. And lazy. I don’t want to talk anyone else out of using semantic markup, and if they want to use microFormats, good for them. But I won’t go out of my way until someone can convince me of why I should – I’m perfectly ready to be convinced.