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Iconified Metadata

Once upon a time there were no icons for feeds. Many sites used orange xml icon which really made no sense to the average user (what’s xml?). Then there was a feed icon feed. It then started to become a standard and webmasters were encouraged to adopt it. This was a great thing for users who want easy to find RSS feeds, and publishers who want users to easily find RSS feeds.

Then the idea of an OPML icon. Now there’s the idea of a “Share This” icon and a Microsummary icon (which I could see being a standard as the feature is cool enough for adoption). Then there are MicroFormat Icons.

Standard icons are a good thing, they are one less thing a user has to learn to distinguish between sites/products. But I do wonder if there’s really a need for what seems to be a bunch of icons. My fear is that it will just become a rainbow of colored icons with simple shapes.

For the share icon you could of course question the sustainability of such “user generated content” or “social networking” sites, or just the need to launch into them. They aren’t standardized, a protocol, format, etc. We don’t have a specific icon for news, weather, blogs, or even somewhat standardized things like email or IM. Email and IM at least have some standards, even though IM isn’t shared across the board. There are trends for some of these that tend to be “universal symbols” such as a newspaper for news, envelope for mail, etc. But no standardized icon.

For microsummaries, and microformats, do we really expect users to directly interact with them? Or use them in a more subconscious fashion similar to the <title/> tag on a webpage.

I question how effective all the icons will really be to end users in the long run. I can see the feed icon persisting, since it’s represents two standards at the moment (RSS/Atom) that both do the same thing. Both the technology and the icons are well adopted to further solidify it’s status as a standard icon.

Is there a need for the rainbow?

I’m not accusing or criticizing, but wondering (out loud) what the likelihood of users recognizing all these square icons really is. Should there really be a “standard icon” for everything we do in Web 2.0 (as they call it)? Or should it be more informal like it is for email and news?

Should we have an icon to link (via anchor) to the part of your page where you show the various icons your site has? An icon-icon? Perhaps that’s worthy of a Photoshop contest.

4 replies on “Iconified Metadata”

I guess you started off with the best example: the feed icon. It is very useful to have an icon that indicates that the site has a feed that you can subscribe to. Having a standard icon has a certain recognition value. You can argue whether you need the icon on the web page itself. I got certainly very used to seeing the feed icon in the right corner of the URL box in my Firefox browser.

You already microformats. I can see the same happening with microformats in a little while. I think it is useful to have these icons around. Some kind of standard is almost a must. I can certainly do without the rainbow. Matt Brett did an awesome job providing a feed icon package that lets you adjust it to your particular layout. I don’t see why this should not work with other icons.

A microsummary microsummary is what we need. Go recursive, go nuts.

To be more serious, in my mind, the browser should know what the page consists of and present it to the user integrated into the GUI (cf. the feed icon). Icons on the web page work, but they should be the worst-case fall-back, when the browser doesn’t know what’s on the page.

There should ideally exist a pluggable architecture for micro formats (micro format here meaning a format embedded into the basic delivery system of the web, (X)HTML) of all kinds, be they XHTML-based, XML-based or based on something entirely different. The plug-ins then simply include a description of the micro format (eg. a BNF grammar) that allows the browser to detect them in the code and hand them off to the plug-in.

Such a pluggable architecture would ideally become a part of the creation of new micro summaries, and browser support being one of the stopgaps to completion of the overall micro summary development.

In short, meta-data in any form should primarily make things easier for the user or the service. Including meta-data and pointing to it with an icon is a very poor attempt at that, even though an icon is better than nothing. Browser integration should be the goal with any and all meta-data that pertains to users. Otherwise it cuts out a large percentage of the user base.

Last paragraph should be “user of the service” not “user or the service”. Gnnnh.

I see the icon more as a banner that proclaims “We’re trying to promote RSS” or some other new technology or service. Nobody has a special icon for email links because it’s so ubiquitous. Eventually all these icons will be dropped and replaced with new ones representing new technologies and services.

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