Lately, I became interested in microformats and how they could help the shopping ecosystem. It came first from discussions with Seb, one of my friends at Yahoo!. Then I started digging the official microformats.org website.
Microformats are an easy way to build a semantic web, by defining simple formats built upon HTML and XHTML languages. The concept is quite old now (around 2004), but microformats are not yet as popular as we could imagine: if hCard (for contact information), hCalendar (for events) and hReviews (for reviews) microformats are now widely used, there are only 10 microformats with final specifications, about 10 that are still drafts, and a lot of discussions to define future ones. But I think microformats deserve more than that, especially in the shopping ecosystem, from merchants to shopping engines.
I’m not the first one to have thought about the usage of microformats in shopping:
To summarize the benefits that microformats could bring to shopping, I would say that, by providing a structured way to represent reviews, products, listings…, microformats would help detecting shopping-related content when crawling websites, and would ease the aggregation of those data on shopping engines.
The main benefits for merchants is to be more “discoverable” when they are crawled, and to ease the submission of their feeds to several shopping engines. For shopping engines, the crawled content will be easier to analyze (say bye bye to the complex algorithms used to perform feature extraction) and to display in a structured way.
For now, there are 3 microformats whose specification has been published as draft, which could be useful in the context of shopping: hReview, hListing and rel-product.
Numerous web sites publish reviews using a broad variety of schema for all sorts of things from products (movies, music, books), to businesses (restaurants, hotels, stores), to events (concerts, theatre), to people (artists, leaders, celebrities), to places (landmarks, parks), to online resources (web pages, files), to reviews of reviews themselves. In order to enable and encourage the sharing, distribution, syndication, and aggregation, of reviews, the authors propose the hReview microformat, an open standard for distributed reviews.
hListing is a proposal to define distributed listings:
Individuals and professionals are increasingly publishing their offerings online: whether as items for sale or rent (cars, homes, apartments), services for hire (music lessons, dog walker, plumber), openings (jobs, volunteers, extra spot in a book club) or personals (people looking for dates, companions, roommates). The goal of publishing (and promoting) these listings online is to seek out interested parties, often within a limited time period. While descriptions of products and services are common on the Web, particularly on e-commerce sites, we are proposing an hListing microformat for sharing, searching, and syndicating the information that helps match up buyers and sellers.
hListing is already used by edgeio, an emerging solution to distribute classified listings.
rel-product is still in discussion:
With rel-product it would be easier to go to some product website by just searching for its name, for instance you want to go the iPod website, so you go to some microformat search engine that could suport rel-product and search for iPod. if some site has linked http://www.apple.com/iPod/iPod.html with rel-product you will find it.
In part2 of this article, I will try to identify new microformats that could be interesting in the shopping area (of course, an obvious one is a microformat to define products).