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An Introduction to Microformats


This document provides an introduction to microformats, with a description of what microformats are, the benefits they can provide and examples of their usage. In addition the document discusses some of the limitations of microformats and provides advice on best practices for use of microformats.

What Are Microformats?

"Designed for humans first and machines second, microformats are a set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards. Instead of throwing away what works today, microformats intend to solve simpler problems first by adapting to current behaviors and usage patterns (e.g. XHTML, blogging)." [1].

Microformats make use of existing HTML/XHTML markup: Typically the <span> and <div> elements and class attribute are used with agreed class name (such as vevent, dtstart and dtend to define an event and its start and end dates). Applications (including desktop applications, browser tools, harvesters, etc.) can then process this data.

Examples Of Microformats

Popular examples of microformats include:

  • hCard: Markup for contact details such as name, address, email, phone no., etc. Browser tools such as Tails Export [2] allow hCard microformats in HTML pages to be added to desktop applications (e.g. MS Outlook).
  • hCalendar: Markup for events such as event name, date and time, location, etc. Browser tools such as Tails Export and Google hCalendar [3] allow hCalendar microformats in HML pages to be added to desktop calendar applications (e.g. MS Outlook) and remote calendaring services such as Google Calendar.

An example which illustrates commercial takeup of the hCalendar microformat is Yahoo's Upcoming service [4]. This service allows registered users to provide information about events. This information is stored in hCalendar format, allowing the information to be easily added to a local calendar tool.

Limitations Of Microformats

Microformats have been designed to make use of existing standards such as HTML. They have also been designed to be simple to use and exploit. However such simplicity means that microformats have limitations:

  • Possible conflicts with the Semantic Web approach: The Semantic Web seeks to provide a Web of meaning based on a robust underlying architecture and standards such as RDF. Some people feel that the simplicity of microformats lacks the robustness promised by the Semantic Web.
  • Governance: The definitions and ownership of microformats schemes (such as hCard and hCalendar) is governed by a small group of microformat enthusiasts.
  • Early Adopters: There are not yet well-established patterns of usage, advice on best practices or advice for developers of authoring, viewing and validation tools.

Best Practices for Using Microformats

Despite their limitations microformats can provide benefits to the user community. However in order to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks associated with using microformats it is advisable to make use of appropriate best practices. These include:

  • Getting it right from the start: Seek to ensure that microformats are used correctly. Ensure appropriate advice and training is available and that testing is carried out using a range of tools. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of microformats with your peers.
  • Having a deployment strategy: Target use of microformats in appropriate areas. For example, simple scripts could allow microformats to be widely deployed, yet easily managed if the syntax changes.
  • Risk management: Have a risk assessment and management plan which identifies possible limitations of microformats and plans in case changes are needed [5].


  1. About Microformats,,
  2. Tails Export: Overview, Firefox Addons,
  3. Google hCalendar,
  4. Upcoming, Yahoo!,
  5. Risk Assessment For The IWMW 2006 Web Site, UKOLN,
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