A few years ago, a small group of folks (Mark Birbeck, Steven Pemberton, Ralph Swick, Shane McCarron, me, and more recently Ivan Herman, Manu Sporny, and a lot of great new folks) started with the simple idea that, if web pages contained a bit of structured data in addition to their haphazard content, we could improve the Web a little bit. We could mark up titles, people’s contact information, geolocation data, copyright licensing information, etc. Tools could be built, including browser plugins and search engines, to help users extract this structured data and make sense of it. There were others there before us, in particular the microformats effort. But we had, from the start, one major design difference: we felt strongly that anyone should be able to extend the core features without getting approval. The technology we came up with is RDFa. A few years later, Yahoo adopted it with SearchMonkey, so if you add bits of RDFa to your page, Yahoo search prominently displays those tidbits in its search results. A little bit later than that, Google adopted it with Rich Snippets, same story as Yahoo. And today, Facebook just adopted RDFa, which will help it connect more precisely the items you share/like/annotate on the Web.
We weren’t the only folks proposing this kind of markup, and there remain healthy competing technologies. But because RDFa was architected with minimal centralization, anyone can create a vocabulary for it, anyone can use it and extend it without central approval, and that’s exactly what Yahoo, Google, and now Facebook did. They didn’t consult with the RDFa team. They didn’t have to. I consider that a great success: distributed innovation at work.
There will be work to do to reconcile the Yahoo, Google, and Facebook vocabularies. But that’s okay. RDFa lets you add as many vocabularies as you want, so you can easily combine the three vocabs for now to be maximally compatible. Over time, the tremendous power of the linked-data toolchain that forms the underpinning of RDFa will be brought to bear to progressively make the vocabularies compatible.
Exciting stuff for the structured-data Web!