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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Semantic markup - a public sector debut

I've been reading Jason Ryan's blog post about experimenting with the use of semantic mark-up in government press releases. I think it's well worth a read for two reasons: one, he does a great job explaining it in simple terms, and two because it's a development that's nice to see in NZ and worth watching.

I'll be honest, this is an area I don't know much about. Web code for me is like the language of a country I've visited once or twice - I recognise phrases and get the gist but can't speak it very well.

But I'll hazard a broad outline: in a nutshell, semantic mark-up adds information to the underlying code of web pages which makes them easier to read - for people and computers.

The extra markup might mean, for example, that people with vision impairments who use screen readers can see more of the page (images, pointers and directional headlines are spelled out as well as the main text).

It could also mean that pieces of information on the page can be retrieved for further use - such as plucking out key dates and adding them to a calendar, or populating news/updates/events sections of other websites.

Jason points to a Firefox extension (due to be part of Firefox 3) which "allows you to click on microformatted information in web pages and it will initiate application sequences. So, in the case of hCard, clicking on the microformat will open your address book (in Thunderbird or Outlook, say) and you can save all the information then and there. Geo formatted information will open Google Maps and show you exactly where the place or event is, hCalendar will open your calendar application and allow you to save the event."

Bring it on.

Interesting to see this taking shape in the public sector (Jason edits the Network of Public Sector Communicators weblog) - government, in other words. Will the news business keep up with the pace?