It has been noted, over at the relaunched Webmonkey, that Microformat support seems to have dropped out of Firefox 3.

What has actually happened is that FF3 has an API for microformatted content but no UI to display it. There was a concern about how to alert the user and then how to let them access the data.

The short story is that even with Firefox 3, you'll need to install an add-on like Operator to take advantage of microformats data on the web. The reason the user interface is missing is because, as Kaply says, "there was never any agreement as to how to expose (microformats)".

Mozilla and the Firefox developers variously considered a sidebar or a toolbar, but decided that both would take up too much screen real estate.

Is this really such a difficult question? Why not just display the microformats logo next to the RSS logo in the address bar?

It's extensible - after clicking you would get a list of available microformatted items, just like you get a list of available feeds. It follows an existing paradigm set up by the RSS logo, specifically that the data on screen is available in another format. It takes up a tiny amount of screen real estate.

Opera already adds a logo in this manner when the content is available as a widget:

Opera toolbar showing RSS and Widget icons

It's hardly a stretch to imagine a Microformats icon as well (ignoring the fact that I'm no icon designer :)):

Opera toolbar showing RSS and Widget icons, plus added microformat icon

It feels pretty natural and you're already used to the RSS icon appearing in that location. Obviously there's an upper limit on how many logos you'd want, but that issue applies to the RSS icon too.

The security and maintenance issues of how to process the data do remain, of course. How do you update the processing routines, for instance? But even that seems like a minor issue when you consider how often Firefox updates get pushed out.

Updates seem like even less of an issue when you consider the frequency of new microformats being released - ie. not very often. Seriously, plenty get discussed but the list of actual "specification" grade microformats has barely changed in the past 18 months. In fact, off the top of my head I don't think it actually has changed in the past 18 months.

So, my suggestion to browser makers could be summarised like this:

  • When microformat content is identified in the page, display a microformat icon in the same way the browser displays the RSS icon.
  • Only support those microformats designated "specifications". Or even just support hCard and hCalendar, which are the ones most likely to be useful to the user in a browsing context.
  • When the specs change, include the parsing changes in your next update.

It's just a thought. At any rate, the lack of UI to access the Microformat API in Firefox just means that nothing changes for the time being. People who want to use Microformats use something like the Operator extension. Sometime in future the UI issue will no doubt get resolved one way or another.