Jon Udell writes “We posted weekly.pdf to the website. Isn’t that good enough?” (via Calendar Swamp). People don’t want to and shouldn’t have to structure what they write to be legible to a computer. It is hard enough to write prose that people understand, let alone also making it independently understood by a machine. I think the secret is to make software interfaces that allow people to naturally collect information and let the computer sort and publish it to other computers. Calendars are a great example of this, as are blogs.
Weblog software took a common need, periodic publishing , and created a simple interface that provides people with the kind of media they want to generate: front page news, archives by category or date and so forth. With the advent of RSS feeds, people could enable their blogs to be computer-readable without painstaking markup. They had already structured their information in the nature by which it was generated.
Likewise, it is natural to record calendar information overlaid on a timeline with day, week, and month views that mimic traditional paper visualizations of time. This enables the software to generate structured data without people needing to think about it.
Publishing structured data with today’s software is evolving to be a fairly natural, low-tech act; however, subscribing still exposes too much of the gears in the machine. Let’s take a look at an example of generating and re-using structured calendar data.
Larry Cannell discusses critical mass syndication by applying the technology to the needs of parents. Using Google Calendar, it is quite easy to register and create a calendar with events. The software makes it possible to publish a snippet of html that can be embedded in a website to syndicate the data. This enables a PTA website to publish events in an automatic fashion.
The calendar can be maintained by someone who does not know any details of html or ics, but it still needs to be set up by the technical crew. Likewise in the blog world, you need to be exposed to XML feeds and non-human-readable gobbledygook to connect your feedreader to the right source. The next step in the evolution of the web will be to provide more usable connections between applications.