We are fans of microformats. The concept is reminiscent of the work of the late Ed Deming, largely recognized for the incredible success of the Japanese auto companies at the great expense of the Big Three. Deming showed that increases in quality come from many tiny improvements. Individual engineers and workers would identify thousands of minor improvements that collectively created products of unrivaled quality. Paradoxically, this approach also lowers costs at the same time. Microformats are analogous in that they are about taking small problems on the web and creating shortcuts that solve them.
Microformats are tiny standard data tags aimed at pieces of content and common use cases. The trend started a couple of years ago with some simple formats to identify relationships between people and to locate license information. As these simple formats were adopted, others were added: events (hCalendar), people and organizations (hCard), resumes (hResume), classified listings (hListing) and so on. For more information on microformats, see http://microformats.org/about/.
The power in microformats is that they can allow content to be bound easily between applications. For example, a classified listing can be accessed by any classified search, not just the one on which it is posted. The same is true of calendar entries, personal information, resumes, reviews and so on. It gives applications much more access to online data, while also allowing data and content to flow freely between places. Microformats still have an adoption path to follow, but we plan to get involved with them. Hopefully, this area will be as widely adopted next year as AJAX was this year.
Internet of Things
Bruce Sterling is well known for his ideas about ubiquitous computing, ubicomp, a name that doesn’t wear well with either vision or reality. He has coined a word, spime, which he feels captures at least part of the idea that objects on the Internet are different because they are trackable in space and time. This is a simple concept that has been around for long time—as illustrated by the unique identification numbers for major capital goods like vehicles or machinery used to discover and manage the location and maintenance history of such valuable items. The difference now is that the electronic nature of identification, combined with low cost networks, makes this practical for items as simple as a pair of pants. Still, he reminds us that words are dangerous, especially when we apply them before our concepts are fully formed. For a simple idea, the Internet of Things produces major consequences. The ability to bind to objects will change our relationship to the physical world the same way the web is now changing our relationship to information and ourselves. Sterling has a book on the subject that should be a good reference for more on this topic.
Although Sterling aims at provocation and focuses as much on language as on technology, there is already a good deal of concrete activity going on in this space. The future ubiquity of RFID chips is generally accepted, but what will this reality mean to us? Although there are challenges in scanning items, especially in resolving unique items from a cloud of tags, these spimes will provide a source for unimagined uses for computers. Location technology today is under aggressive development from location-aware devices to new applications in social networking and inventory management. 3D virtual models and the ability to automatically generate real physical objects from them have been around at least for a decades, but their use could broaden dramatically. Some of the companies involved in this space like—3D Systems (TDSC), Stratsys (SSYS) and Dassault (DASTY)—are intriguing enough to be added to our ongoing company radar screen.