The hCard microformat is a fantastic way of making the contact information on a page transition into other formats without needing to write tools to do it yourself, or support multiple download formats.
One of the key parts of this is for tools which will do that transformation. In this article I am going to talk about what some of the tools out there are, and talk a little about some of my own projects in this field.
A good example is converting your information to the vCard format (used by many phones, email and address book applications) or to a specific proprietary format like the one used by gmail.
What are the advantages of this?
In my opinion, if I am putting data or information onto the internet it is for one big main reason, for it to be used. Whether this is talking about the web development industry here, or a map on a clients site, the information or data I am adding to the web in my eyes is there for people to use.
If i think about the typical small company site I may be tasked with building, often one of the key aims of the site is to provide contact details. The web is an effective means of giving away such information and part of its power comes from the ability to search for it. Without using semantic methods (Be it RDF or Microformats) this process of finding the data is pretty dumb.
For a computer is is remarkably difficult to tell the difference between a registration number and a phone number apart. It can be done to some degree of accuracy (with additional information) but it is not a simple process.
It would be much easier (and more powerful) if the data is marked up in a way to specify more about what it is. This is basically all the hCard class names are doing.
So What services are there?
This is not an exhaustive list of the services out there to manipulate with hCard data, but these are services which I recommend or I have played a part in building.
X2V – (conversion from hCard to vCard) this project developed by brian suda will transparently convert any hCard page into a download of a vCard. As far as I know this was the first tool for such a thing and the one which is most up to date with the specification.
hCard to Gmail – This is a service which I wrote a few months ago which emulates the service which Brian offers except this services instead provide conversion to the proprietary .csv gmail format.
hCard search engine – over at Technorati they have developed the hCard search engine. This is a good example of how the technology can be used manipulate the web in new ways.
So What now?
I hope that in this article I have explained some of the reasons why I have a passion for micrformats and other semantic technologies. It is my opinion that the biggest thing any web developer could do now to start improving the web would be to start using technologies like hCards
After all, the hCard format and the microformats principles are a bit like the chicken and the egg. We need people to be using them, before the tools are developed, which in turn encourages more people to use them!