On microformats and Operator

Microformats logoYou may have already heard about microformats or maybe not. But you will definitely do in the next couple of years.

Having heard about them for a long while I took the time to learn more about them and find out what the buzz is all about. After reading around and playing with some tools, here’s my version:

Microformats are a specific way to write certain small documents so they are easily readable by humans and computers at the same time. Microformats are embedded in ordinary web pages but follow a certain structure and use specific identifiers so applications can easily recognize and handle them.

While the number of microformats is unlimited there are few that are already in use:

  • hCalendar, is used for defining events including a title, date, time and location
  • XFN, is used to define relationships. For example I could add a link to a certain blog, but then specify through a special class that the blog is a from a friend of mine
  • XOXO, is a general microformat for unordered list like this one
  • rel-tags,
  • rel-license,
  • hReview, for writing product reviews
  • xFolk, used to define a list of links
  • hResume; for resumes
  • hListing, for auction and classified ads
  • geo, is a simple microformat to specify coordinates of a certain place, person, event.

However microformats do very little to enhance our web experience if the web browser just ignores them which is what they do by default.

Enter Operator, a Firefox extension developed by IBM’s Michael Kaply at Mozilla Labs that aims to achieve three goals: first, make Firefox aware of microformats present in a web page. Second, define a set of actions that can be performed with the detected microformats and finally, define a framework to allow more microformats to be declared and more actions to be defined.

Once I installed Operator, if I encounter an hCard in a web page it lets me add the contact to my Yahoo! Adress book or export the information as a .vcf file that many email applications like Thunderbird can handle with a single click. If a museum or restaurant web page offers a geo tag, I can send the coordinates to Yahoo! Maps or Google Maps to get driving directions or view the precise location and surroundings. And thanks to the framework it provides I was able to add hReview as a new microformat and define bookmarking as an action for it. I was also able to add hResume.

Let’s see an example. Of the many ways I could write Mitchell Baker, Mozilla CEO contact information I choose to use hCard, like the following:

Mitchell Baker

Mozilla Foundation


1981 Landings Drive

Mountain View, CA,

1 650 903 0800

As you can see, it is nothing but just a web page fragment, but internally, each element has a specific class name and follows the hCard structure, so Operator knows it is an hCard and it offers to do something with it.


Or how about announcing the Firefox 1.0 release:

November 9th, 2004 Firefox 1.0 Released — at The web

Again, it looks like just another sentence, but is in fact an hCalendar event, so Operator detects it and anybody can then choose to add it to his/her personal calendar.


The same goes for Mozilla Foundation HQ location at coordinates:

N 37° 25′
W 122° 5′

In this case Operator offers to show the position with Yahoo! Maps or Google Maps.


The possibilities are endless and adoption is increasing. In fact WordPress, the software that powers Mozilla Links already supports the rel-tag microformat, so you can quickly look for similarly tagged content in del.icio.us, Technorati, Flickr or YouTube. Flickr, the photo sharing web site, also supports the geo tag so it is easy to find more pictures geographically related to the one you are seeing.

It is relatively easy to create microformatted content. For this article I used the hCalendar creator and hCard creator, both available at the Microformats Wiki. But it is definitely necessary for content management systems to include this support by default to ease the path.

The best part is that microformats support is a planned feature for Firefox 3 which will help to spread the use of this technology even more.

You can try it and have fun now. Get Operator at Mozilla Add-ons.

13 thoughts on “On microformats and Operator”

  1. The screen shots for the hCard and hCalendar examples are reversed.

    Otherwise, an illuminating article.

  2. And your map coordinates are in the Mojave Desert near Lake Isabella. I have a certain sentimental attachment to the neighborhood, since my grandparents lived there, but Mountain View it’s not.

  3. Jesse thanks for the heads up. I’ve corrected the screenshots as well as the Mozilla Foundation coordinates but it seems to me I stilldon’t get them right.

  4. There are two invalid hCalendar microformats and one invalid address microformat on this page 🙁

  5. Pingback: Firefox 3 RC2 in June at MyTwentyFive.com
  6. Pingback: Enhance Location-Based Contents in Your Blog with Geo Microformat and Google Maps at MyTwentyFive.com
  7. “Flickr, the photo sharing web site, also supports the geo tag”

    …But, as of August 2010, presents it in a way that is not machine readable (unless your app can sift through a mountain of javascript first)

Comments are closed.