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Do Blogs Need Structure? - InternetNews.
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Do Blogs Need Structure?

Does a new push for standards for structured content answer a need, or does it represent a power struggle in the blogosphere?

Some 30 startups announced the Structured Blogging Initiative on Tuesday evening at the Syndicate conference, saying they wanted to make sure that all the emerging standards were interoperable.

"We're trying to create a cohesive bond, so formats can stay compatible with one another," Marc Cantor, CEO of Broadband Mechanics, told the Syndicate audience. For example, he said, structured blogging would allow someone to publish an entry about an event that could be easily added to an Outlook calendar without cutting and pasting.

Salim Ismail, cofounder of PubSub Concepts, a service that lets people subscribe to RSS and Atom feeds containing keywords, told internetnews.com, "There's a lot of information people publish that not that findable by search. We suggest releasing tools that allow people to own their own information."

According to Ismail, when people post job listings or items for sale, the data is owned by the Web site where it's posted, rather than by the person who posted it -- and sellers often need to pay to post. Using the schematics provided by the initiative would allow feed syndicators such as PubSub to find such information and offer it to others in aggregated form.

Say you need a date. Right now, a single must pay to subscribe to and search multiple dating sites, Ismail said. If individuals published their datability using the structured formats, "You could say, 'I want all the tall blondes from Sweden.'" Publishing structured data would allow people to find things on blogs in a more interesting and useful way, he added.

Canter and Ismail emphasized that structured blogging could allow companies to build new services that take advantage of the data, which could be stored in shared repositories or distributed via services such as FeedMesh, a service for sharing and distributing notifications of feed updates to which PubSub is a major contributor.

But some in the industry questioned the need for this initiative.

"I don't see what problem this is trying to solve," said Mark Carlson, CEO of SimpleFeed, a provider of software to create and manage corporate blogs.

Stowe Boyd, COO of Corante.com, a network of science- and technology-oriented blogs, and author of the Get Real blog, wrote, "I am not sure who [benefits by] everyone falling into line and adopting consistent standards for the structure of blog posts. Perhaps companies like PubSub -- one of the driving forces behind all this -- who would like to be able to sort out all the blog posts about hotels, gadgets, and wine out there, and aggregate the results in some algorithmic fashion, and then make money from the resulting ratings and reviews. But I am not sure that it would be a better world for bloggers, or even blog readers."

Independent developer and entrepreneur Greg Yardley was harsher in his blog, writing that structured blogging would simply enable more companies to make more profits from user-generated content.

"I suspect that the … biggest proponents of Structured Blogging are just looking for new ways to aggregate a lot of content, use it to build up a valuable user base, and sell, generating nothing for us-plain-folks but 'a bigger megaphone,'" he wrote. Yardley pointed to Yahoo's recent acquisition of bookmark-sharing service de.licio.us as an example of how valuable user-generated content can be.

There's a competitive effort afoot, known as microformats.

Microformats are a set of conventions for embedding descriptive XHTML tags in blogs, as well as in Atom and RSS feeds. To date, there are nine descriptions, including those for contacts, calendar items, licenses and votes.

Blog and feed search service Technorati is one of the leaders of the microformat movement. Community Manager Niall Kennedy said that both microformats and structured blog entries would allow authors to syndicate reviews to other sites and services, such as Amazon.com's reader reviews while hosting the original on their own sites.

The initiative launched with plug-ins for the WordPress and Moveable Type blog-publishing platforms. The plug-ins provide forms for use in describing and publishing seven types of blog entries, including reviews, events and lists. The WordPress plug-in was first released in April, 2005.

PubSub paid Canter to develop the plug-ins; the non-profit is soliciting development and financial help from the community for the next phase.

Technorati's Kennedy pointed out that items generated on the structuredblogging.org site didn't conform to World Wide Web Consortium standards, and generated multiple errors that would keep some readers from parsing them.

"We'll fix that," Canter said, emphasizing that the plug-ins were a "first cut" and needed more work.

Official supporters of the Structured Blogging Initiative at launch were Attensa, Bloglines, Bloqx, Blogg.de, Bryght, CommerceNet, Cordance, Edgeio, etribes, Feedster, 5ive, FreeRange, GoingOn, Indeed.com, IntelliCal, iUpload, iVillage, Meetup, NetVibes, Newsgator, OpenBC, Pluck, PubSub Concepts, Qumana, ReadSpeaker, Reger.com, relevantNOISE, Rojo, Sphere, Sxip, Tribe Networks and Yiibu.

Neither WordPress nor Six Apart, providers of Moveable Type, participated in the announcement, but Ismail said that they did support the initiative, as did Yahoo ,which recently partnered with Six Apart to offer Moveable Type to its small business hosting customers, and Google , owner of the Blogger service.