I’m at risk of getting a reputation for pissing on Web 2.0, but here goes. The problem with “microformats,” which Technorati is pushing pretty hard, is that they seem to be no more than poorly implemented metadata standards.
Take the rel=tag specification, for instance. This is a snippet of code you can add to a hyperlink that tells sites, like Technorati, that the page where the link appears should be categorized a certain way.
In other words, you’re tagging the current page (where the link appears) by linking it to a tag page (which presumably collects many similarly-tagged pages). The meaning of the tag comes from the linked page, and is applied to the linking page.
Confused yet? It gets worse.
One of the stated goals of rel-tag is that its tags should be visible. Unlike the META tags we’ve all been putting on our web pages for years, tags are easily spotted and read by humans. Except the specification undercuts even that, telling us: “The last path component of the URL is the text of the tag.” So this link:
is a “tech” tag, even though it looks like a fish. And this link:
is a tag for “haiku,” not “poetry.” And this:
is not a tag for anything, it’s just a link. So much for visibility.
And encoding content as part of a linked page’s URL? How much more inflexible can you get? This is supposed to be an improvement over META tags?
Here’s an example of the problem. The URL for my weblog’s “reviews” category is this:
I can’t change that (old) directory structure unless I want to break all the inbound permalinks to it. But thanks to Technorati’s brain-dead tagging scheme, I can’t categorize it under the tag “review” either — instead, it should show up tagged as “main,” which is completely meaningless. And if I want to add some useful additional tags, like “technology” or “Tweney,” forget about it.
The result: I use Technorati tags when I want to make something show up on Technorati. But that’s it.
A decent tagging scheme would allow you to take any arbitrary text, with or without a hyperlink, and add one or more tags to it. It also wouldn’t commit you to using a single company to sort out all your tags. I’m sorry, but rel-tag just doesn’t cut it. The best I can say for this half-baked standard is that Google hasn’t supported it yet.
You want to make metadata visible? Write a browser plugin that lets you view META tags.
So, back to microformats: What makes them different from metadata? Or for that matter the much-maligned but nevertheless-growing semantic web? It seems clear to me that they’re the same thing–except microformats are less well thought-out. If a field was ever crying out in desperate need of a few good librarians, this is surely it.
[tags]metadata, microformat, microformats, technorati[/tags]