Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Microdata formats and Schema.org

One of the things I've become interested in over the past year is metadata and it's role in linked data and the Semantic Web. I'm all for Web 2.0 and social information tools, but sometimes I think we're stuck in that Web 2.0 rut and aren't looking ahead to Web 3.0 ("the Semantic Web") which in my mind is so much more powerful and interesting. In many ways, the talk about the Semantic Web and linked data is still conceptual. Some of the larger, better funded organizations like the New York Times and the BBC are cutting the virtual footpath through the uncharted Web 3.0 terrain, but many smaller libraries and information agencies haven't quite made the leap yet (and probably for good reason). There has been a lot of talk about RDF and its potential to help us link data so that machines can understand context and meaning. Some have criticized RDF for being too complicated, and in some ways I do agree with this. If we're really going to make strides toward linking data semantically then we do need standards that are easy to implement.

In response to this criticism, the major search engine companies, Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, have developed a somewhat simpler set of schemas and microdata formats that web developers can implement to help search engines ascertain context and meaning from the see of text and markup on the Web. I thought I would check out what they've come up with to see how easy it was to implement. I used the schemas for books provided on the schema.org site to mark up my reading list. It was surprising easy to do, and once I was finished I noticed that the LibX toolbar I had installed had automatically detected the ISBN numbers for the books in the markup and was linking directly to those resources in my local library. How cool is that?

Schema.org certainly isn't THE solution to the linked data problem, but it was definitely an interesting experiment. I'll definitely be doing a little more research into this to find out how widely it is being used and how it compares to RDFa.

Have you used schema.org schemas and microdata formats? Let me know what you think.


Goddard, L., & Byrne, G. (2010). Linked data tools: Semantic web for the masses. First Monday, 15(11).

Library Linked Data Incubator Group. (2011). LLD XG Final Report (Draft of the general part).

Meebo Chat Low-down

GoogleTalk, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Instant Messenger, AIM . . . With so many instant messaging platforms out there, it's no longer practical to choose just one to communicate with patrons or customers. So how do you manage accounts on all of these platforms? Meebo is one of the many "multi-protocol" chat tools out there that can help you manage multiple chat/IM accounts, making it easier to cater to the individual chat preferences of your users. Just set up your free Meebo account, add all of your other chat accounts (Google, Yahoo, MSN Instant Messanger, AOL AIM, etc.), and you're pretty much ready to chat. If you'd like to close your browser but still be alerted whenever someone wants to chat, download the Meebo notifier for Windows (sorry Mac users). Meebo also has a built in video/audio chat feature and gives users the ability to send files through Meebo which could come in handy when you're collaborating on a project or need to send or receive visual information (e.g., a screenshot) to someone.

One of the biggest advantages with Meebo is that by installing the Meebo Me widget, you can create a way for anyone to chat with you anonymously through your website without needing to create an account or download a chat client. This is a big plus if you're trying to maximize your chat availability and accessibility. The Meebo Me widget is surprisingly easy to install too. Meebo generates the code and you paste it into your webpage code wherever you'd like the chat to appear [here's an example I created for a work project].

The one thing that Meebo seems to be missing is a way to log/archive chats with anonymous users and groups/chat rooms. At this time, logging is only available for conversations with people who are on your buddy list (who are most likely not anonymous users).

With all that said, Meebo is a pretty decent product for those of you wanting to be available to patrons or other customers via chat/instant message. If you know of other products out there (Trillian is one) that might be better, please drop me a line. I'd love to hear about them.