BBC drop hCalendar microformat
written by craig, 24 June 2008
It has announced hCalendar microformats will be removed from the BBC website. They are concerned about accessibility issues of using the <abbr> tag to markup data for dates and other fields.
This is a major blow for microformats. I’m a big fan of the concept: you make simple syntactical changes to a web page so it becomes machine readable. It all works towards the semantec web, which many are heralding as Web3.0. As an example, you could browse to a website, your browser could recognise the company’s contact details, offer to add it to your address book, and magically update it if it ever changed. Software to handle this kind of thing is still in development, but seamless integration such as this has a good chance of going mainstream.
I use the hCard microformat whenever I can. The HTML changes are mostly subtle – you add certain class names to elements to make them machine readable. The semantecs of the HTML are not changed and there is no impact on accessibility.
Unfortunately, I think the BBC are right about the hCalendar microformat. Using a <abbr> with an title containing a machine-readable date will be shown as a tooltip on some browsers and is likely to be read aloud by screen readers. It may be a minor problem in the real world, but the fact remains that the microformat will have a negative impact on the user’s experience when it shouldn’t.
It’s also a little dubious from a semantec perspective, since the title is likely to be an abbreviation of the contained text:
<abbr title="2008-09-05">Friday 5 September 2008</abbr>
The microformat community is aware of the problem, but the BBC statement is a big blow and a resolution should be sought quickly.