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on Thursday, 16 May 2013

Now you can use microdata to interact with Google Answer Cards and Google Now!

If you're a Gmail user like me, and you have a reasonably up to date mobile or tablet using Jelly Bean, you'll no doubt have come across the Google Now interface, with useful 'cards' which appear based on where you are, what time of day it is, what is happening in your life and more.  I've often said that semantic markup is going to be critical going forward and this is just another example of why it's important to be up to date with the latest developments.

Google has announced that it is now accepting microdata within emails that are sent, and it's Gmail interface will make use of the microdata it finds.

What's all the fuss about? 

You might wonder what use microdata would be within an email, but if you've ever had a play with Google Now I think you'll already know why.  Take my recent visit to San Francisco for example.  When I was on the way to Heathrow, I got traffic alerts telling me what was the fastest route to my hotel - as the information was stored in my calendar.  It picked up the postcode, and offered to navigate me to the hotel.

Another card told me about my hotel, about interesting locations nearby and what reviews they had received (useful for choosing somewhere for dinner!), and perhaps the most useful card told me about my flight which had been picked up through my GMail account.

When I landed in San Francisco, it told me the currency conversion rate, the time at home and locally, weather forecast in San Francisco, popular tourist locations, and more.  When I went to Holland recently a translate card appeared.

How does this relate to my website and the emails I send?

If you have a website without microdata and/or you're sending out emails which do not contain contextual information, you could be missing a trick - especially if you operate in areas where there are Google Now cards which could be used to give your customers information.  Currently, the following are supported:

  • Activity Summary (Walking and Biking)
  • Birthday
  • Events
  • Flights
  • Gmail: Events
  • Gmail: Flights
  • Gmail: Hotels
  • Gmail: Package Tracking
  • Gmail: Restaurants
  • Movies
  • News
  • Next Meeting
  • Photo Spot Nearby
  • Places
  • Public Alerts
  • Public Transit
  • Research Topics
  • Sports
  • Stocks
  • Traffic
  • Travel: Attractions Nearby
  • Travel: Time Back Home
  • Translate
  • Weather

If your websites contain microdata, and the emails you send to people who book to attend events, visit your location, or interact with your services contain microdata, you are likely to appear in these ever growing semantic search systems.  If you don't use microdata, at best you may appear if search engines guess the context of your content, but you probably won't.

Why the excitement?

The reason I was excited today was that Google have announced that GMail will be supporting the use of JSON-LD and Microdata in emails - you can read more about it here - which makes it that much easier for web designers and developers to push semantic (contextual) information into emails.

Hat tip to Manu for his tweet this afternoon:

It does make me wonder whether this is a threat to organisations like TripIt who have created their own data mapping systems to pull out contextual information manually - with the addition of microdata, that will no longer be necessary in most cases.  If I were them, I'd be concerned.


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