When I joined the IndieWeb community, I discovered the concept of "microformats." Microformats are a way in which you can add structured data in the same HTML tags you use to mark up the structure of a document. This works because microformats only needs you to add certain keywords to your HTML classes to function.
Microformats is defined on the IndieWeb wiki as:
**extensions to HTML for marking up people, organizations, events, locations, blog posts, products, reviews, resumés, recipes etc. Sites use microformats to publish a standard API that is consumed and used by search engines, aggregators, and other tools.
I will let you in on a little secret: the source code behind my home page, pictured above, contains lots of microformats. I use:
- rel="me" to tell machines what profiles I own around the web (for example, my Instagram account, my email address, and my GitHub account).
- h-feed to list my most recent blog posts.
- h-entry to mark up the title, publication date, category name, image, and summary of my blog posts in the feed.
- h-card to mark up my profile with my name, image, nickname, pronouns, and more information about me.
In short, with some HTML classes you can make it easier for search engines and other technologies to read content on your site.
Why does it matter if you support microformats? That's a great question. In this blog post, I am going to briefly share why I publish microformats on my site. I hope this post inspires more people to add microformats to their site.
Reason #1: Microformats connect with IndieWeb technologies
Many IndieWeb technologies rely on microformats to work. For instance, IndieWeb Search, the search engine I created that indexes sites owned by IndieWeb community members (and other relevant sites), uses microformats to extract pieces of information that may be relevant to a search query. Say you are searching for a review for a product. If a top result has published a review using h-review, the search engine can use the markup the site author has added to show a special result. In the case of IndieWeb Search, you may see a rating mentioned in a special box that only appears if you use the h-review markup on your reviews.
Let's take another example: Webmentions. Webmentions are a way for you to send replies to blog posts on other sites. The main difference between Webmentions and other commenting systems is that you always keep control over your reply. You can show your reply on your website if you want. The reply your post should link back to the original on your site from the place where you posted the reply. Some people who consume webmentions look out for special markup like u-like-of or u-quotation-of to see whether a webmention is a like or a quotation, respectively. These are two of many examples of how webmentions can be used alongside microformats.
While there is no strict requirement to use microformats to make use of the tools the IndieWeb community develops, adding microformats to your site does help some community tools interpret your site.
Some IndieWeb tools that make use of Microformats include:
- Quill: Post content on your site.
- Webmention.io: Send and receive webmentions.
- Indie Book Club: Keep track of the books you are reading.
- RelMeAuth: A standard that specifies how you can identify yourself as a URL or domain.
- Brid.gy: Reads likes and comments sent to your social media profiles and sends them as webmentions to your website.
- And so many more examples...
I would encourage you to head over to the IndieWeb wiki if you want to learn more about these tools. You'll find plenty more examples of how microformats are used on the wiki too.
Reason #2: Microformats help search engines understand your content
Google has supported microformats for years. While they may no longer include microformats in their official search documentation, adding microformats to your site will still help Google understand the content on your site. You may see yourself get extra snippets in your search results (i.e. stars on your ratings). If you care about your site being easily understood by Google, I would recommend investing some time in adding microformats to your website.
As I mentioned earlier, IndieWeb Search also supports reading microformats to understand key pieces of information on a web page. In fact, IndieWeb search exclusively looks for microformats in featured snippets and is not capable of reading any other markup for this purpose. This approach means that the search engine is lean when it comes to structured data information retrieval (and doesn't spend time looking for other types of markup which are not heavily supported by community members). Microformats make sites eligible for special review, recipe, event, and other types of snippets. You may even see your name (or nickname) and profile picture appear in a search result alongside your articles if you support h-card on your site.
Reason #3: Microformats are simple
I find microformats relatively easy to use, unlike other forms of structured data. Ease of use means you can make use of the IndieWeb tools above and improve your search presence without having to dive deep into the complicated world of structured data. Consider this example of a microformat in use:
When I joined the IndieWeb community, I discovered the concept of "microformats." Microformats are a way...
This code not only determines the structure of a blog post, it also conveys some important semantic information. h-entry tells a piece of software that I have written an article. p-name tells the software the name of my article. e-content tells the software where to look for my blog content. All of this information is in my HTML without having to add any new HTML tags or work through a more complicated standard like JSON-LD.
In fact, microformats were designed to be simple. Before any microformat is developed, the community likes to have a clear use case in mind. There must be a reason why both publishers (people who publish content on their own site) and consumers (software that reads microformats) would want to make use of a microformat. As a result, microformat standards are simple and relevant to most use cases, without bloat.
I did used to wonder: what is the point in adding microformats to my web pages? Now that I have experimented with a few tools made by IndieWeb community members, I can see the value proposition clearly. Microformats make it easy for machines to read content on your website, from IndieWeb tools that let you take ownership over your web experience to search engines that want to index your site so other people can find your content.
I have discussed my reasons for adding microformats to my blog. There are likely many others out there. If you use microformats and have a different reason than those above for using them, do let me know. I'd also love to hear about your experience adding microformats to your site. Did you find microformats easy to use? What confused you? What information helped you the most when you started reading about microformats? You can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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