BBC drops microformats from programmes section.

A few days ago, I read on the BBC Radio Labs Blog they are removing microformats from their programmes section.

Although I can't watch the BBC from where I'm living, I find this very interesting news. The reason they want to drop microformats mainly seems to be related to misuse of HTML tags, causing problems for people with disabilities. Although they clearly mention this is mainly causing problems for the formats using the so-called Abbr design pattern, I think this brings up a bigger problem.

Microformats Logo

I don't think the semantics HTML should be extended this way. Although this might have been the original intention while developing the HTML standard, I think at this day and age it is very difficult to add meaning to standard html tags, without affecting the user experience. This will work fine if you look at HTML as a transport mechanism for data, but not if this also needs to be opened by the user, in a browser..

I totally get having a separate HTML document, one for just carrying microformat standardized data, but what is the benefit to mix it with the html document the standard browsers get served? And if anything, why not base it off a seperate XML namespace and embed it in XHTML files. After all, XML was intended to be easily extendable. This is also how RDFa works.

Using RDFa still doesn't fix the browser-compatibility issues though. I think it would be perfectly acceptible to serve the machine-readable data off different url's. That way it's possible to use the full XML and HTTP (REST) stack. Atom has done this really well and is still detectable by a browser, because of its integration using the <link> tag. The other benefit is that the same degree of liberty can be retained in writing the presentation HTML, but you can demand higher strictness in the XML format.

One of the things atom does not cover, is a correlation between a specific section within a browser-readable HTML document and semantic data, but I'm sure this could be solved by referencing id's, or using XSLT like Mozilla's Microsummaries standard does.

The last argument for microsummaries, is that semantically only one URI should represent an entity (piece of data). The HTTP standard also has a solution for this, as it could simply leverage a simple Accept header.

So I guess the question I'm posing is: what is the benefit of embedding machine-readable data in HTML over serving it as a separate document, since it seems to make implementation more difficult.