Microformats

**UPDATE** – I chatted with Dave Knight, from iStudio’s technical team about this and have a revised, remixed and improved posting over on the iStudio blog.

It’s a cold cold Saturday here in Toronto and instead of going to the gym, I’m trying to get a head start on my Blog Herald column. Now that the furore has died down somewhat, I though I’d riff on the “Social Media News Release” or, as we call it at iStudio, the Optimized News Release.

One of the many questions I have around the development of a standard ONR is the issue of microformats, hRelease and hAtom tags.

My html skills go as far as embedding a link in a blog comment, and even that is a toss-up sometimes, so I’ve been struggling to find out what they do and, more importantly, why we need a standard.

Definition of the crowds

The Wikipedia definition of a microformat is:

…(a) markup that allow(s) expression of semantics in an HTML (or XHTML) web page. Programs can extract meaning from a standard web page that is marked up with microformats.

Existing XHTML (and HTML) standards allow for semantics to be embedded and encoded within them. This is done using specific HTML attributes:

  • class
  • rel
  • rev

Adding microformats to a standard HTML web page allows machines to process HTML text and to possibly load data into remote databases. This would allow programs such as web crawlers to find items such as contact information, events, and reviews on web pages.

Layman’s explanation

So what does that mean? Well, I’ve started to think about it like this:

Most all of my blog postings have certain “tags” or key words that I use to describe them. These tags are, in turn, used to classify and group my posting in with others. So this post will be tagged “microformat” and, if you click on the link at the bottom, you’ll be taken through to Technorati where you’ll be able to see all other postings that have also been tagged “microformat“.

If that’s how tags are used, microformats are, as I understand them, used to identify and group pieces of information within the document.

With regards to the ONR, there is a standard format of what information needs to go where: headline; main copy; executive quotes; video etc. The microformats would allow PRs to tag each of these sections, not just the whole document, with relevant key words.

Practical application

How does all this help our core constituents, journalists like Mathew Ingram or bloggers like Mark Evans? Say I’m a real journalist and I’m writing a news story on SAS (an old client). I need some quotes to round it out but it’s the weekend and I can’t get in touch with my PR contact. Time’s running out and I need Dr. Jim’s word’s of wisdom ASAP.

One solution is to trawl through the many, many news releases hosted in the SAS news room. But there’s no time for that now. The microformat would allow you to go to a search engine (where ever that is) and look up all “quotes” tagged “jim goodnight” and “whatever I’m writing about”.

As long as SAS issues standardized ONRs and the PR/tech guys have done their job, a simple search would bring me up exactly what I need.

Caveat Emptor

As always, this is the utopian ideal. We’re hoping that

  • the quotes are real quotes and not “franken-quotes”,
  • that the microformats have not been abused or spammed
  • the (as yet unwritten) standards are being supported by the major search engines like Technorati, Google and Yahoo! (an FH client)
  • journalists give a damm

Apart from that we’re all set!

As I’m going to say on Friday, I think the ONR has a lot of potential both as a way of generating more coverage for a client (in the short and long term) and for improving the way in which PRs pitch journalists and bloggers.

There are, as always, many bridges to cross before we find ourselves there.

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2 Responses to Microformats

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  2. […] Release (a term subsequently used by Foremski and Defren), Social Media Release, New Media Release, Optimized News Release, Multimedia News Release, to name a few — and I’ll happily embrace any of them as long […]

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