Microformats and RDFa

The technically inclined might want to check out this article on Google’s newly announced support for certain types of semantic data. This should have an interesting impact on e-commerce, especially complex e-commerce products which have a great deal of options and attributes like promotional products.

Essentially, Google is looking to index information in a more meaningful way so that computers can understand it and provide better results to users. Right now, when Google looks at something like a product page, it really doesn’t know the difference between something like an imprint area and an imprint method, because they are both simply textual information. Google may understand them in the sense that they are similar to other terms in other places, and it may be able to help you find something using that similarity, but at the root, Google doesn’t really know what those terms mean.

XML gives us the ability to structure data in a meaningful way, but it isn’t necessarily available to Google in an html web page. It is only meaningful within a system or when exchanging data with another system.

RDFa attempts to structure and label data in a way that in meaningful to a computer. The development of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) pointed web content in the direction of semantic markup, but RDFa takes this much further by explicitly defining the structured content in a web page for the purpose of indexing and understanding.

If all this is making your head spin, think of this: What if you saw an event on a web page, and could automatically add it to your calendar, with all details correct, with just a single click? What if you could compare the lead times of products across many different websites just using a search engine – say, to find the vendor that has the fastest turnaround time for a given product?

That’s what Google is shooting for, and we will be testing these features and incorporating them into storeBlox over the next few months. We’ll let you know how it goes.

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