It’s five years hence. You’re a marketer at a retail operation specializing in the latest fitness gear and apparel. You want to run a campaign promoting a sale you’re having on Saucony Grid Hurricane running shoes. So, you pull up your content management application. You select “offer to sell” from a drop-down box. Up pops a list of fields, which you fill in, one by one. You make selections for item type, brand, price, colors, sizes, etc. You hit “publish.” It appears on your company’s Web site. You wait.
Meanwhile, a fitness content site is collecting offers to display in its “classifieds” section. Someone has asked to be alerted if Saucony Grid Hurricane shoes, in a women’s size 8.5, are offered below $90. That person gets a notification — perhaps on her instant messenger application — and a sale results.
Structured Blogging aims to get bloggers to publish things — currently restaurant reviews, movie reviews, event listings and book reviews — in structured formats. Users of WordPress or Moveable Type download a plug-in that gives them customizable forms to use when entering any of these various types of items. The plug-in inserts code into the resulting HTML page, which provides information about what the entry is. This makes it easier for search engines to make sense of the text and to properly categorize it. The plug-in also provides a uniform look, so a concert review looks like one.
“We look at it as Word versus Excel,” Salim Ismail, co-founder of initiative leader PubSub Concepts, told me, explaining the difference between a regular text blog entry and one formatted with the Structured Blogging plug-in. As with an Excel document, one could then sort, calculate, aggregate or mail merge (mash-up) the data much more easily than in a Word document.
Add to the Structured Blogging concept the FeedMesh initiative. Generally speaking, what FeedMesh seeks do to is set up an über-index, in which participating parties would share responsibility for and access to the universe of RSS feeds. These participants could then slice and dice this index and add services on top of it. It’s sort of similar to Alexa making its Web index available. If people began publishing their job openings in a structured format, job search players like Oodle, Indeed and SimplyHired could forego crawling and building an index, instead competing on services and functionality.
What’s really impressive (and what gives me a feeling this initiative might actually take off) is the list of supporters. Salim tells me America Online, Yahoo and eBay are among those interested in working on Structured Blogging, in addition to the substantial list of supporters listed on the initiative’s Web site. A small sampling of companies involved: Ask Jeeves’ Bloglines, Feedster, Indeed.com, iVillage, Meetup, Newsgator, Rojo and Tribe Networks.
Meanwhile, FeedMesh, according to Salim, has the support of Google, Yahoo, Verisign and Feedster, among others.
Currently, Structured Blogging is relatively small. Salim estimates that tens of thousands of structured blogging posts have already been published — around 50 to 80 a day. It’s one of those things — like tagging — that may initially seem like a hassle, but it could really take off once it picks up momentum. From a user-generated content perspective, doesn’t it make sense for someone to post their restaurant review once — on their own Web site — rather than entering it into Yahoo Local, Judy’s Book, Insider Pages, Yelp, etc.?
Part of the hold-up may be the fact the plug-ins are only available for two blogging platforms. But Salim tells me they will soon be available for the Drupal application. Google’s Blogger and AOL’s Journals are coming up next. “All of the blog authoring tools have said they’d like to work with us,” he said.
But don’t be fooled by the “Structured Blogging” name. This isn’t just for blogs — or it won’t be, in the long run. “At the moment it’s just for blogging,” Salim told me. “But blogs and Web sites are very quickly becoming indistinguishable from each other.”
If it does take off, it’s potentially very disruptive to the status quo. In my earlier scenario, did you notice how no money changed hands between the advertiser and the publisher? And yet, there’s a need for content/portal sites to flourish, to aggregate audiences and offers. What’s the answer? Maybe some sort of affiliate-style payment scheme — open source, of course — could be concocted? I certainly haven’t thought through all of the implications of this idea, partly because it has so many possible ramifications.
As with Google Base, the initial threat seems to be to classifieds players that have thrived by building structured walled gardens: Monster, eBay, HotJobs, Cars.com, etc. Later, other forms of advertising could fall prey to the concept, as well.
Will it happen tomorrow? Not likely. But in this social, syndicated, mashed-up world the Internet is becoming, I wouldn’t count it out.