TECH TALK: The Now-New-Near Web: Microcontent and Microformats

One of the key ideas for the N3 Web is that of microcontent. Wikipedia has this to say about microcontent:

The term Microcontent has first been systematically introduced and defined by Anil Dash in 2002: Today, microcontent is being used as a more general term indicating content that conveys one primary idea or concept, is accessible through a single definitive URL or permalink, and is appropriately written and formatted for presentation in email clients, web browsers, or on handheld devices as needed. A day’s weather forcast, the arrival and departure times for an airplane flight, an abstract from a long publication, or a single instant message can all be examples of microcontent.”

In the years of the booming blogosphere the term became important and useful to describe the emerging new content structures that were enabled by new technologies (like trackbacks, pings and increasingly RSS), new types of CMS-software and -interfaces (like blogs and wikis), and not least by new socio-cultural practices (people creating, bringing into circulation and re-using/re-mixing ‘microchunks’ of content).

Microcontent could be other forms of media like an image, audio, video, a URL (link), Metadata like author, title, etc, the subject line of an email, an item in an RSS feed.

Anil Dash wrote in November 2002: The primary advantage of the microcontent client over existing Internet technologies is that it will enable the sharing of meme-sized chunks of information using a consistent set of navigation, user interface, storage, and networking technologies. In short, a better user interface for task-based activities, and a more powerful system for reading, searching, annotating, reviewing, and other information-based activities on the Internet.

A more detailed explanation comes from Nova Spivack who wrote this in December 2003:

What is a “microcontent object?” Here is one attempt at a definition: It is a finite collection of metadata and data that has at least one unique identity and at least one unique address on the network, and that encapsulates no more than a small number of central ideas, where the number of central ideas encapsulated is usually 1.

For example a Weblog posting is a microcontent object because it is a finite collection of metadata (the fields of the posting as defined in XML or RDF) and data (the content of the posting), and it has an identity and URL, and is generally focused on providing a small quantity of information about a single central idea (although not always).

Contrast this with the concept of a “Web page” or a “Web site” and the distinction becomes a little clearer. A Web site is a complex, compound collection of metadata and data that may be addressed on a single domain-name, and that contains one or more information collections of unbounded size where each sub-collection may itself comprise a Web page or another Web site. A Web site is therefore “macrocontent” rather than “microcontent.”

A Web page on the other hand is a little closer to the micro-level, but even here there is still a distinction between a typical Web page and true “microcontent” — namely that a Web page is not limited to being “small” or to being focused around only a few central ideas (for example, consider the home page of Yahoo — this is a page but it is not microcontent).
Microcontent is “small content.” That is, small, granular pieces of content, each with an unique identity and URI, that may be published, subscribed to, and linked across the network.

Examples of microcontent include typical Weblog postings, RSS/Atom posts, discussion postings, Wiki nodes, or database records that have their own URI’s.

Tomorrow: Microcontent and Microformats (continued)

TECH TALK The Now-New-Near Web+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.