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Dr Mike J Smith
Kingston University

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Microformats: the spatial web for human reading

Sun, 04 Feb 2007

Following on the theme of Neogeography, it is worth pointing out that great strides have been made amongst non-GIS folk in the realms of Web2.0 in order to "spatially enable" our internet experience. The likes of Mikel Maron (of Worldkit) have brought location to the forefront of websites, such that places like Flickr now fully enable location in terms of meta-data. There is no better demonstration than through the use of GeoRSS. Machine readable feeds (a.k.a. RSS) are great for looking at website updates and also displaying spatial data. So much so that it is now rapidly becoming a full format and is even fully supported by software such as cadcorp.

Anyway, the main thrust here is that this is a machine format. What about standard readable formats? Well XML is the obvious route, but its not really a web format yet. The next step back from this is therefore markup within HTML that support location. And this already exists in the form of microformats; a structure of tags that add semantics (meaning) to the content of a web page in the same manner that XML does. This markup is embedded in the page for utilisation by the web browser. Its early days yet, but some interesting things are now being done with microformats. On the spatial front, most notably Grease Route, a Grease Monkey script (for Firefox) that parses a page for spatial microformats (notably either the address or location tags) and then offers a location map or route via MapQuest. Have a click on the globe icon (dynamically appended by GreaseRoute) on my webpage next to my department address.

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