Where are the microformats in Firefox 3?

With Firefox 3 RC1 available, I’m getting asked “Where are the microformats?” The answer is that there is a microformats API in Firefox 3, but unfortunately there is nothing available in the UI for this release. There are a couple reasons why this is the case, so I thought I would take some time to explain.

The primary reason that microformats aren’t exposed in the Firefox UI is that there was never any agreement as to how to expose them. Originally the idea was to have a “rich media sidebar,” but after implementing that in Operator, it was realized that it wouldn’t have much content in it most of the time. Plus sidebars take up a lot of real estate. Having a toolbar in Firefox didn’t make a lot of sense since, again, there would be a lot of screen real estate needed for something that the user wouldn’t use very much (yet). I liked the idea of an icon on the URL bar similar to how RSS feeds work, but the consensus was that noone wanted the awesome bar to become cluttered with small icons on the right. The other option was to make them available only when you right click on microformats, but this wasn’t very discoverable and the technical aspects of making it discoverable (icons on hover, etc.) were a little daunting. There was one really good idea related to adding a kind of bar on the left side that showed where the microformats were, but that idea really needed to be prototyped. So in the end, we were left with nothing in the UI.

There was also a second problem that wasn’t discussed as much, but was still a big issue – how to plug in new services. Currently Operator uses the concept of user scripts to allow the installation of additional microformats and connections to web services. Unfortunately, the method I chose (raw JavaScript files) introduces security and other issues. It works for Operator, but would not be a good method to put into the core browser.

So where does that leave things? We still haven’t solved the UI problem, but Microsoft has come up with a solution for the services problem that I am currently in the process of integrating into Operator. It’s called OpenService. I mentioned a few posts ago that I’m extending the specification a little bit so we can define Operator web services connections using XML. Tomorrow, I’ll go into some detail as to what I’m doing. Hopefully I can get some good feedback and work with Microsoft to standardize my additions to the specification.

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27 thoughts on “Where are the microformats in Firefox 3?

  1. Thanks Mike for the insider’s look. Will the FF3 microformats API be used in Operator? Does it make sense? And when do you think Operator could work in FF3? Thanks a lot for your answers,

  2. Thanks for the update; I was actually wondering about this very issue recently, so it’s good to know. As to the solution, I think yours is ideal: offer four different options, and let the user decide! I like to have the Operator logo in the address bar, but it’s nice to have the option.

    Now, if we could just have a version of Operator that worked on FF3 RC1…

  3. We should talk about what this means for the product piece early. Like, does it make sense to ship defaults? If so, we’d have to localize those, and get local partners.

    From the POV of user experience, this might be closer to rss readers than to protocol handlers, from the POV of server side implementation, this could be trickier and costlier than protocol handlers?

    Are there bugs to CC oneself on?

  4. @Axel:

    These are actually more like openSearch than RSS and protocol handlers. Microsoft even based the spec on openSearch.

    So from a localization perspective, I picture the same scenario as openSearch (including revenue opportunities)

  5. @Peter: I’ll have something up today

    @Nicolas: Firefox 3 got locked down without a few fixes I wanted for Microformats API, so Operator’s Microformat support is a little beyond FF 3. That should be fixed in a FF 3 update. I’ll be looking at how to make Operator be smart about using the builtin FF stuff vs. internal.

  6. Given the number of outstanding and well-documented issues with microformats (accessibility issues around misuse of abbreviations; exclusive end-dates; incomplete specs; lack of recognition for commonly-used tagging behaviours; etc.), it might be a good thing if the big jump in the number of people exposed to them does not happen yet; better to wait until those issues are resolved, than teach a great number of people bad mark-up habits.

  7. Do you know if it is intended that the built-in microformats support in FF3 will be restricted to extension developers or will it be available to Javascript running in the page?