Usefulness of DataPortability.org’s Rel=Me project

In the suggested reading section of the page for the DIY Rel=”Me” project over at dataportability.org’s wiki, There’s a link to this blog post, which is an attempt to explore the usefulness of rel=”me” to the regular old web user.  The article is slightly tunnel-visioned at what you can or can’t do with your browser to exploit MicroFormats.  Of course, being able to detect locations or personal contact info thru a browser extension is useful and I’m all for it, but beyond a few obvious exceptions like those, The Semantic Web, MicroFormats included, wont be much use to us at the level of the browser.  We will still need Web based portals or “Libraries” or “repositories” or “Catalogs” or what have you, to connect to, in order to really take advantage of this stuff.  Semantic markup on pages is great. RSS is an example of how a little bit of semantics can go a long way.  But what’s of greater significance is the idea of the Web Of Data, where resources are “semantically” interconnected, by leveraging information that’s mapped to the domain of knowledge where it’s useful and the relationships between resources are also specified in a machine-understandable way.

Rel=”me” is the equivalent of saying “The person represented by this URL is the same person as the person represented by this other URL.”  Taking that into consideration, imagine how this would effect the experience of searching the “Web of Documents.”  I argue that if enough of us implement rel=”me” (or other microformats or RDFa) in our HTML pages, we will empower the Googles and Yahoos to take advantage to knowledge expressed by this markup.  So let’s do it!  

Quotes from the Article I mentioned:

“…So assuming that you went through the trouble to write up your HTML with rel=me, what next, where is that information actually consumed. I don’t think the 2 most popular browsers (IE 7 and Firefox 2) at this time have native support for XFN, I hear Firefox 3 is suppose to have native microformat support but I haven’t looked for it and if it is there, it isn’t immediately obvious to me. The closest thing I can find is a Firefox plugin called Operator. Operator is a microformat capable reader and for the most part seems to be able to consume most of the above microformat standards except rel=me, kind of odd but kind of understandable…”

“…At this time, I can honestly say that XFN rel=me proliferation is limited and experimental at best. It would take a while for mass adoption to happen and requires a lot of user education, adoption by popular social sites like Facebook, MySpace, etc, and native browser support…”

 

I commented there and when I take the time to write a long comment out, that isn’t something I’ve already written in so many words here, I like to steal my own comment and put it here for anyone who reads my blog.  My response:

I felt like I had to chime in and point out that the point of MicroFormats or RDFa isn’t really to make an overnight change in how we use the Web. It’s to create a backbone of linked data so that as Search Engines and other “Libraries” begin to have stores of these relationships between documents and other resources available to work with, they can begin to improve their services. It will be nice when Search is only partly based on scanning for text-strings or combinations of words.

If you were looking for Andrew in Sebastopol, CA, how would you do it? Perhaps you’d google “Andrew Sebastopol CA…”
But what if you could specify that you are looking for a person?
What if you could specify geocoding info or otherwise specify that Sebastopol is a town in Northern California?
What if you could filter your results by the time web-pages were created or filter by domain specifications (like show me wiki articles first or show me all MySpace profiles) or filter by type of site like say, show me blogs only, and finally, and this is where rel=”me” comes in, what if you could specify in your search results that you want to see every other document that is an expression of the same person, once you have selected from your query, a person named Andrew who lives in Sebastopol, CA? This is what it’s all about. It works because links work backward. In other words, you can already say “show me all the pages that link to this thing…” but what about being able to say “show me all the pages linking to this Twitter page that link using rel=”me” or better yet, show me all the pages linked to with rel=”me” from any page that links to this twitter page with rel=”me” …And so on…

The Web is becoming a library. By adding microformats and other semantic markup to our documents, we are making it possible for decent “card-catalogues” to be built, whether they’re being built by google, yahoo! or the guy down the street.

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