The Fundamental Types
If Firefox 3 is potentially going to ship with native support for microformat detection, then a very important initial question becomes “which ones?”
I spent a lot of time over the last month pondering this, and I thought about a variety of different things:
- The basic types of things people commonly do
- The applications people commonly use to view various types of information
- The questions that journalists are trained to ask to get the full story
- Which Microformats are currently popular
Here is how these four different considerations relate to each other:
Here are the three new types of information that I believe Firefox should natively detect and display, because these three types are truly fundamental:
If you want to get overly philosophical, you can even string these three types together into a sentence to describe our perception of the universe:
These three icons are displayed in “microformat green,” when static information is detected in a Web page’s HTML. But they can also represent feeds of each type of information:
While many applications support importing information, not all of them support feeds of information. For instance, even though geocasting is a cool idea, I don’t know of a single mapping application that currently supports RSS with a payload of geos. One possible way around this limitation is for Firefox to aggregate microformats sent through feeds, and then forward this information to the appropriate application on a regular interval using that application’s API.
Note that these are certainly not the final icons. If we go with this design, we may need to ship three or four copies of the location icon at different rotations for respectful localization. Also, the calendar icon in particular could use some iteration.
The Web Browser as an Information Broker
Detecting information in Web pages and handing that information off to other applications changes the role of the Web browser from being solely a HTML renderer to being an information broker. This new role for Web browsers was discussed in several sessions at the Firefox Summit in November, and was also recently blogged about by Mitchell in her blog post Follow the Data. Here is a diagram of how the various fundamental types match up against commonly used applications (click through for a larger version):
Similar to the way Firefox handles search engines, microformat detection (and the associated applications) should be designed as a completely open and extensible platform. This framework should enable contact management, calendaring, and mapping applications to easily integrate with Firefox’s microformat detection system.
While discussion of implementation isn’t really the purpose of this UI blog, I should note that the difficult part of microformat detection is not parsing the data, it is dealing with the wide range of APIs for all of the different applications on all of the different platforms that can consume this data. Thankfully we have an incredible open source community.
This interaction model is fundamentally different from the user interface of Live Clipboard, and I believe it is better for a variety of reasons, which I will blog about at some point in the future.
Next: Introducing Operator