File Under: Software & Tools

What Happened to the Microformats Support in Firefox 3

FirefoxmicroformatsWhen Firefox 3 was still in the early alpha stages, Mozilla said the browser would offer ways to work with microformats data — small chunks of semantic markup for address book info, event listings and more.

However, now that Firefox 3 has reached the release-candidate stage, we’re left wondering: where are the microformats tools? The answer, according the Michael Kaply, developer of the Operator plugin, which offers some microformats tools, is that an API exists in Firefox 3, but there’s no user interface available.

The short story is that even with Firefox 3, you’ll need to install an add-on like Operator to take advantage of microformats data on the web. The reason the user interface is missing is because, as Kaply says, “there was never any agreement as to how to expose (microformats).”

Mozilla and the Firefox developers variously considered a sidebar or a toolbar, but decided that both would take up too much screen real estate.

There is also a secondary problem — how to add new services. Kaply’s Operator plug-in uses raw JavaScript files to allow users to add new services, but of course that introduces security issues. As Kaply admits, “it works for Operator, but would not be a good method to put into the core browser.”

The good news is that while the UI problem remains, Microsoft has come up with a solution for the services problem. The company’s recently unveiled OpenService, which will be part of Internet Explorer 8, connects to web services using XML. Since the format is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License, Kaply is hoping to work with Microsoft to adapt Operator to use the same format.

So while the services issue has largely been addressed, there still is no consensus on how to integrate microformats into the Firefox user interface.

Part of the problem is that microformats are thus far very abstract. While they theoretically allow your browser to associate semantically marked-up data with specific applications — meaning the contact information you see on a website would be associated with your favorite contacts application, events would be associated with your favorite calendar application, locations would be associated with your favorite mapping application and so on — there is no consensus on how to provide those features.

If you’ve got ideas, head over to the Mozilla developer site and join in the discussion. In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait for Firefox 3.1, or perhaps Firefox 4, before microformats become an everyday browsing tool.

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