Microformats Enable Unanticipated Mashups
Mashups of Linked Documents
Hyperlinks are considered fundamental to the Web. And deservedly so. They enable a Web document
to connect to other documents. Stated differently, they enable information to connect to other information.
In today's world the emphasis is on being able to "combine information". That is, we want to do
Consider a Web document that links to another document. One can envision an application which combines the two
documents. Thus, an application can mashup the Web document with the documents it links to.
But what about mashups with other documents, for which it does not link to? That is, what about unanticipated mashups?
My colleague calls hyperlinks hard links. They are hardcoded connections between information.
While very useful, they necessarily provide a limited perspective of how information is related. And they necessarily
limit the variety of mashups.
Microformats: Behind-the-Scene Data
Microformats are injected into Web documents. For the most part, Microformats don't link to other things.
Rather, a Microformat is metadata that just hangs around as "Behind-the-Scene-Information". However,
because this metadata is "standardized" it makes possible the unanticipated mashup.
Evolving from Mashups of Linked Documents to Mashups of Microformat-Enhanced Documents
Consider the Web document containing a biography of the famous aviator Chuck Yeager.
It has a link to photos of planes Yeager has flown.
There is a link to a Yeager profile page.
And there is a link to an interview with Yeager.
- Using the link to the photos page we can mashup the biography with photos, to create a visually rich biography. Nice!
- Using the link to the interview page we can insert into the biography actual quotes from Yeager. Nice!
- Using the link to the profile page we can add an executive summary to the biography. Nice!
The links in the Yeager Web document enable us to perform three mashups. Nice!
But there are virtually an infinite number of other mashups that people around the Web may like to perform on the Yeager information!
As I examine the Yeager Web document I see opportunity for injecting several Microformats. I could inject several
hCard Microformats where the document gives data about Yeager,
former President Gerald Ford, author Tom Wolfe, and the Air Force space school. I could inject multiple
vevent Microformats where the document describes his
different air missions.
With these Microformats injected the document is opened to countless unanticipated mashups. Here are a couple examples:
- A historian is creating a Web document containing all the events that occurred on October 14, 1947.
The Yeager document contains a vevent Microformat which specifies an event on that day .
Through the assistance of a Microformat-aware search engine (e.g. Technorati)
the historian discovers the connection between his Web document and the Yeager Web document, and does a mashup
(i.e. incorporates the Yeager event into his Web document).
- A husband and wife couple are trying to decide on a middle name for their newborn boy. They like the name
"Elwood", and want to know who else has that name. Through the assistance of Technorati the couple discovers
the connection  between their interest and the Yeager Web document, and does a mashup (i.e. incorporates the hCard for Chuck Yeager into their document of people whose middle name is Elwood)
These two examples show:
- a connection between the Yeager information and the historian's information
- a connection between the Yeager information and the couple's information
These are connections that the author of the Yeager document could never have imagined!
They are unanticipated connections!
The Microformats that lie embedded in the Yeager document are the enabler of these unanticipated connections and mashups.
My colleague calls Microformats soft links. Microformats are connectionless connectors.