Monday, March 10, 2008

Spock and Microformats - It Just Makes Sense

For those of you who haven't been fortunate enough to visit, I suggest you do so. Spock is the newest (and most likely the best) people search engine on the web. If you have any web presence at all, you probably already have a page on the site.

I've been a faithful user of Spock since its launch, but I've always felt there was something missing. At first, I thought it was the lack of the typical social-networking whiz bangs like page comments and polls, but after having a chat with Jay Bhatti, co-founder of Spock, I realized that the real intent of Spock is people search. Their not trying to create another social network disguised as a people search engine like some (I'm not going to name anyone in particular). I'm still not sure I agree with this stance given that users tend to get bored without these features once the initial building of their profile and network has completed. This could prove detrimental to Spock given that their users provide much of their search content. I've since realized that this is not the missing link. Actually, what's missing are the links themselves, the semantic links.

Spock is a perfect use-case for using microformats given that most of their data is suitable to be formatted in preexisting popular microformats. Let's take for example the current categories of a Spock search result: web, pictures, tags, news, related people, contact. XFN could be used to markup the web, news, and related people sections, rel-tag for the tags section, and hCard for the pictures and contact sections.

The first benefit is that users of Spock wouldn't need to build their own XFN relationships by hand, Spock would automate the creation of XFN HTML through their user interface. Google has very recently released their Social Graph API which harvests relationship information present on the web in the form of XFN and FOAF, making it publicly available for use. If Spock implemented XFN, it would vastly improve the functionality of the this API, allowing for easy creation and use of relationships between people on the web. This may seem like a deflection of use from Spock to Google, but ultimately it would increase the use of Spock in order to build and maintain XFN relationships.

Another benefit is that contact and picture information could be automatically exported to a vCard using Firefox add-ons like Operator and Tails Export. Current Spock operations allow for the import of contact information but the only way to get it out is through their API. While this is good for developers, it doesn't do much for users who want to quickly get and use the information they want.

I hope Spock realizes the benefit of microformats and chooses to implement them sooner than later. I look at this as a time to shine for Spock, and stand out as a truly open, web 2.0 website.

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