You Can Take An Active Role In Schema.Org

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brickby Jennifer Zaino

Have you wanted to get involved in the schema.org project? Your contribution to the collaborative effort driven by Bing, Google, Yahoo and Yandex for a shared markup vocabulary for web pages is more than welcome. As Dan Brickley, who is developer advocate at Google, noted during his presentation about schema.org’s progress to date at this summer’s Semantic Technology & Business Conference, the “pattern of collaboration with the project [is] we’re trying to push work off on people who are better qualified to do it, and then we mush it all together.”

What is meant by that is that the project is so broad, covering such a huge amount of topics, that the input of experts – whether from the library, media, sports or any other of the multitude of communities whose vocabularies are or aim to be represented – is incredibly valuable, and very much encouraged. In an overview of the 2013-2014 releases, which included TV/radio, civic services, and bibliographic additions, as well as accessibility properties, among others, Brickley related that during the year, “We listened a lot. We listened to people who knew better than us about accessibility, about how broadcast TV and radio are described, about describing social services, about libraries, journals, and ecommerce, and then integrated their suggestions into a unified set of schemas.”

In fact, Brickley noted, schema.org got more work done this year than in the two previous years combined (though make no mistake – those were busy ones too). The secrets to this most productive year, he said, lie in factors that included the four major search engine vendors getting better at working together and getting better at working in public – in engaging more deeply with a wider community. “We’re also reaping the benefits of work that was happening earlier in the project,” he noted, pointing out as one example the bibliographic improvements that debuted at the end of the summer (you can read about them at the schema.org blog here). These improvements “were debated in public, hosted at W3C, over the last two years by experts – by experts, I mean not us,” he said. That is, they were the work of the W3C Schema Bib Extend Community Group, chaired by Richard Wallis.

Beyond community-led schemas, there were also schema.org partner-led efforts from the search engines’ own consumer-facing product groups with implementation experience. For example, they drew attention to the fact that schema.org should include that events have organizers, and that there should be a way to point to the bibliographic work that served as the source for an event like a play, using the bibliographic extensions. “Or, and this was a bigger deal, [they said] what if this schema.org stuff from web pages could also be used in HTML-based email, and that was a huge deal this last year,” he said.

In another open-arms gesture, the schema.org site’s also been re-implemented by Google Fellow R.V. Guha as an open source Python project on GitHub. “The point of the open source release was to remove central bottlenecks and to allow anybody to prototype schemas and to work collaboratively together,” Brickley said. He added, though, that, while using GitHub as a way of collaborating on schemas is working pretty well, it also can be “pretty nerdy and technical and [there’s a] risk of excluding non-programmers unless they’re helped by people in the community.”

Schema.org’s connections to the search engines will always be hugely important, “because they make these technologies actually useful to millions and millions and millions of non technical publishers,” he said, thus driving the business. But at the same time, Brickley noted that it is equally important to be “open and inclusive and collaborative … We’ll listen to anyone with good ideas anywhere on the planet and encourage them not to persuade us, but to persuade their peers. There is a creative tension between those two sides to the project, but I think we’re navigating that tolerably well, and we’re learning as we go.”

To find out more about being a greater part of the schema.org community, including specific vertical efforts and where they are hosted, as well as hear Brickley’s summation of other highlights of schema.org in the last year and expectations for the year to come, you can view the video here.

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