Big time

I’m back from my week in New York and, as promised, I took a whole bunch of typical tourist photos. Needless to say, I had a wonderful time: that city really is all it’s cracked up to be. But for most of my stay I wasn’t being a tourist; I was working.

I spent five days enjoying the company of the standards-savvy developers at Time Warner. They couldn’t have been nicer. I even had my own office on the 19th floor for the duration of my stay.

Two of my days were spent giving workshops in DOM Scripting and Ajax. These workshops went well but given the banner-ad driven business model of most Time titles, it seems unlikely that the marketing folk will allow much Ajax. It was kind of heartbreaking to see the developers’ ideas for improving the user experience get dashed on the rocks of page views. Still, things may change. Nielsen is changing its metrics from pages viewed to time spent. David Sleight is doing some celebratory cartwheels at this news. Had I known last week that he works in the office directly across from the Time Warner building, I might have been able to catch a glimpse of his gymnastics from my office window. Maybe next time.

The rest of my time in the belly of the publishing beast was spent looking at some code, chatting and generally geeking out with my Big Apple colleagues. I found some time in the middle of all this to give an impromptu presentation on microformats. Magazine-based sites (especially those in the sports and entertainment categories) are ripe candidates for some hCalendarisation.

I really enjoy talking about microformats as my captive audience at the BBC last month can attest. Just wind me up watch me go. When I’m on my microformats high horse, there are a number of recurring themes that I always touch on: where microformats come from, how you can consume them, and who’s publishing them already. On that last point, I usually cite some of the cool kids like Flickr, Upcoming and Twitter as well as the big names like LinkedIn and Yahoo Local. When Yahoo started supporting microformats, Richard MacManus was prompted to ask what chance, Google? Well, ever since Kevin Marks left Technorati to join Google the chances have been very good indeed.

Last week Google put hAtom in all newly created Blogger templates. That was a welcome step but today’s announcement completely overshadows it: Google Maps now returns search results in hCard:

Today we’re happy to announce that we are adding support for the hCard microformat to Google Maps results. Why should you care about some invisible changes to our HTML? By marking up our results with the hCard microformat, your browser can easily recognize the address and contact information in the page, and help you transfer it to an addressbook or phone more easily.

This is a huge leap in the number of published hCards on the Web. It would be interesting to get exact numbers but I’d guess that the amount of places returned in Google Maps searches runs into the millions. The beautiful thing about all this is that I suspect the change was trivially easy: just adding a few extra class names into a template.

With this seismic shift in the landscape of published microformats, I think we in the microformats community may have to shift our focus slightly. Instead of just being concerned with evangelising the publishing of microformats, it’s now incumbent upon us to show regular Web users how they can consume this wealth of semantic information, whether it’s through the use of a Firefox plugin like Operator, bookmarklets or—soon—native browser support.

Our work is just beginning but before we dive in, we can afford to pause for a few moments today to celebrate this great leap forward.

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