Theresa O’Connor

Getting microformats: it’s the process

Kyle Neath says he just doesn’t get this whole microformats thing. Judging from his description of the microformats process, I’m inclined to agree with him — he just doesn’t get it:

[A]t the state it’s in right now, microformats are a very individualistic cause. One person creates the microformat, and after that they own it. It seems that nothing can be said or done without the creator stepping in and weighing his or her opinion. If we want to get this thing going, it needs to be centralized and de-ownerized (if that makes sense).

This couldn’t be more dissimilar to the process as I understand it. Let’s look at this point-by-point.

  1. Solitary creation

    Err, no. A microformat is the result of the collaborative deliberation of an active community of web developers, designers, hobbyists, and others.

    problem statement---->research/discussion---->proposal/draft---->standard
    ^________________V   ^___________________V   ^______________V

    The many iterations of the microformats process

    At each iteration — and every proposal goes through many, many iterations, as depicted in the figure above — the entire community participates in observing, documenting, simplifying, and converging (as Kevin Marks puts it).

  2. Solitary ownership

    This falls to basically the same argument as above — the microformats community owns the various microformats. No one can unilaterally change a microformat. The process has to be followed within the community.

  3. Nothing can be said or done without the creator stepping in

    Microformats can’t be modified without the participation of the community, and the author of the original proposal is likely to be an active member. In that sense, this might strictly speaking be true, but I don’t think that’s what Kyle had in mind when he wrote this.

Kyle suspects the microformats crew are actively trying to make this an elitest [sic] club. Incidentally, I do think there’s a sense in which the microformats community is elitist, but in this case, it’s a feature and not a bug.

The microformats process is very labor-intensive, and shepherding a format from problem statement to standard can take months of intensive effort. Given this, it’s reasonable to expect that only people dedicated to the microformats principles and process will actually stick around to see things through to the end.

Basically, the community self-selects for people who are dedicated to finding simple ways to publish and consume high-fidelity data on today’s web using semantic XHTML. If that’s elitism, it’s my kind of elitism.

Specifications are built on social process[es] and they [get] their value from and by this social process.

Karl Dubost