nicolas leroy

How could microformats help the shopping ecosystem? (part1)

October 16, 2006

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 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.