Microformats @ MIX

At PDC last year, I got to sit with Tantek a few times and debate the microformats approach to semantics. We discussed microformats in a few sessions at PDC (and bittorrent even came up, for those bloggers who speculate without attending the conference). Anyway, many of us XML-heads have become more intrigued by microformats approach. I think it’s obvious that this approach is the next step beyond tagging for grassroots semantic web.

Now Marc is blogging about the Microformats BOF at MIX. Just six months ago, it was easy to imagine the web splintering into another hundred-years war over “lightweight metadata format” standards. But at MIX, it was clear that Tantek and Marc aren’t intending to contribute to any such battles, and that’s a big reason for hope.

We discussed the whole “lightweight metadata” thing at yesterday’s 4th Friday Cabal, as well. I feel safe to make some predictions about how this will evolve going forward. Note that I’m talking about the overall microformat approach; not about individual formats.

  • Most uses of lightweight metadata, such as geotagging, ratings and reviews, calendaring, etc. will switch to using microformats.org approach.
  • On the indexing side, the services like Google, Yahoo, EBay, Craigslist, etc. who crawl and index all of this data; will continue to exert some influence. However, they will eventually be forced to recognize and crawl microformats, and none of them will be big enough to create a more dominant standard.
  • On the publishing side; the publishers and tools will be slower to react. The other proprietary and fringe formats that compete with popular microformats will not go away quickly.
  • Within Microsoft, you’ll still see teams use a varietay of approaches. Some still use opaque binary for metadata, others use XML+XSD, others use naked XML. None (or few) use straight microformats (ala microformats.org). I predict this will change, and teams will start to use microformats where it makes sense.
  • Microformats will not replace XSD or other formats across the board. But they will win in the set of scenarios where they make sense (pretty clearly delineated at microformats.org). This is a big footprint of scenarios, and very important to then next wave of web evolution.
  • As it becomes more obvious over the next 3 years that microformats approach is gaining critical mass, someone will become alarmed and try to “save” the web. This person (or people) will attempt to fork off a version of the overall packaging format and get enough adoption to force everyone to support both. This will be done in the spirit of “preserving developer choice” or “triangulating the BigCos who have become too influential” or whatever.

OMFG!!! WE NEED TO SPLIT OFF LIVE SO WE CAN CHASE GOOGLE’S TAILLIGHTS!!!

What a content-free piece of rhetoric. Battelle picks a single executive quote which he considers to be boring and old-fashioned, and concludes “Microsoft should be broken up!”

He is arguing that MSN should operate independently of Windows and Office, and that corporate restructuring smoke and mirrors are the only way to do this. This argument is almost as old and boring as talk about convergence.

He also seems locked in the false choice of “Google versus MSFT”, or “Thick Client versus AJAX Web Site”. The press seem to have been so mesmerized by their own repetetive murmuring that they see the industry in these black/white terms.

Things are changing, that is true. And “Live” needs free rein and autonomy, that is true. But it’s silly to think of “Live” as being a competitor to Google. That is an impoverished perspective that misses all of the most interesting points.

For starters, when I agree that things are changing, I look at examples like Xbox Live, iTunes/iPod, and WoW. These all involve specialized software or hardware, not AJAX web sites. Talking about “The Web” as being purely DHTML e-mail apps is sooo 1998.

Additionally, even when you understand that it’s about creating seamless end-to-end user experiences, of which DHTML is just one part, you shouldn’t automatically look at Google. Google has search, a lot of money, and some incredibly smart people. But Yahoo! has the most seamlessly integrated and comprehensive set of services on the market, and a share of users attention that absolutely dwarfs Google. In my opinion, Google is barely in the game against Yahoo, and only because of potential, not actual delivered products.

And of course, Microsoft’s strengths in this space are pretty well understood. MSN Hotmail is still bigger than the competition, as is Spaces (well, bigger than the contenders in question here). If you want to push your DHTML service to a user, chances are that you are going through IE or Windows. If you want to create shared experience (friends list, gamertags, etc.) across the user’s game console, you’re not moving into territory controlled by YHOO or GOOG. If you want to integrate with users media devices (television tuner, mp3 player) you are not moving in GOOG or YHOO territory. I’m not saying MSFT can/should charge a toll, just that if you want to create seamless end-to-end experience like iTunes/iPod or Xbox Live, you have an advantage when you control more pieces of the stack.

And let’s talk about other people besides GOOG and YHOO. What about FOX? What about Amazon? Both companies are redefining categories that the big portals hoped to use to extract tolls. What about EBay?

Finally, the other big change insinuated by Battelle’s GOOG vs. Live comments is the change from license fee to ad revenues. Again, this is not a DHTML-only thing, and it’s no longer a GOOG only thing. How long until we start seeing demographically targetted product placement ads in online console games? How long until we see Internet-based TV (and the associated ad market) brick over traditional broadcasters? What would happen if Windows were free and ad-funded? (Note I am just talking random crazy talk her; not giving away any actual plans). What would that do to the ad revenues of a search engine when 90% of their users are reaching the engine through an OS that is ad-funded?

OK, my point is that the situation is WAY more complicated that Battelle implies, and splitting off Live to chase GOOG’s taillights is really shortsighted.