Granddogma Goes to Bar Camp

by francine Hardaway on August 18, 2007

To read this, first you have to know that I am known as granddogma to my family, because of my daughter’s dogs, to whom I function as a grandmother. (One of my real stepgrandchildren, the three-year-old, actually called me Grandma Dog last time I saw her.)

Then you have to know how to write HTML. [Only kidding.]

This morning, I walked into a stunningly crowded room of (mostly) young men today at an event in Palo Alto called BarCamp. A BarCamp is a conference without a predetermined agenda where the attendees volunteer to lead and contribute to the sessions.

Granddogma goes to BarCamp because she always wants to learn something new, and she wants to learn what a BarCamp is.

She chooses the sessions by how little she knows about them, so she walks into one called “microformats.” She thinks it is going to be about Twitter and Pownce, two little computer applications she uses to tell her friends who also use them where she is at every moment of the day. Not that different from what we used to do as teen-agers: call each other six times a day to say stuff like “I’m doing my homework.” Not that different from what teens do today with text messages.

(After the teen years, I ran into a period of my life where I did not want ANYONE to know where I was all the time, and this period lasted about forty years. Now I am over that, and ready to use all these little Internet tools that might be the 21st century version of “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”.)

Dummy that granddogma is, she thinks “Microformats” will be about these “presence tools.”

But it is not. The session leader begins by asking how many people in the room can write HTML (the language of web sites) and I am one of the only hands that does not go up. Dear reader, yours probably wouldn’t go up either, but no matter. I still respect you.

Things get worse from there. I learn that “microformats” are little things that can help you do things like add items to your calendar, share contacts, and find places on Google Maps. This seems like it might be useful.

But first I have to 1)run Firefox as my browser and 2)download a plug-in.

Oh, ordinary people, have I lost you yet? If you WANTED to use a microformat tool, if you EVEN knew they existed, could you do what I just said above?

So when the session leader comes to the part where he queries the audience about how to make more people use these tools, Granddogma sees her change to throw the grenade.

First she reminds all these wonderful, bright young men that most people have no clue what an RSS feed is, don’t read blogs, and only see the stuff I write because I email it to them once a week. Then she explains, speaking from the other side of a wide and deep chasm (inside joke) that for people to adopt microformats, they have to be 1)easy to use, and 2) immediately perceived as useful.

The room falls into stunned silence. Granddogma is happy. She can now go on to explain that words like RSS feed, microformat, even presence tool, have no friggin meaning to the world of ordinary people, no matter what age they are. And how in order to make them meaningful, these bright young people will have to communicate their usefulness to an ordinary person like you.

And that’s why Granddogma has now gravitated to a more comfortable session, one on “Intention.” At least she understands that word.

Update: Just saw Brian Solis’ photos. He’s just such a good photographer at these events. Take a look at his shots to get the flavor of BarCamp.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mo Kakwan August 19, 2007 at 2:38 pm

I love this post because you point out how twitter and pownce are basically what we did by calling our friends with short messages pre internet. When I first saw twitter, It felt to me like your AIM away message on steroids. So many folks describe it as something from the future when it’s clearly rooted in the past.

francine August 19, 2007 at 3:45 pm

Communication is communication. The media might change, but the purpose doesn’t change.

Tara Hunt August 21, 2007 at 6:41 pm

This post rocks!

A while back on the Microformats list, someone brought up the question of renaming Microformats to be more ‘mom’ friendly.

All of the boys started throwing in their two cents: “structured data” and “semantic content”


Um…no. So, someone ran off and described Microformats to their grandma and asked her what she would call it.

She replied, “Well, if they really did all of that, I would call them magic!”

Bingo. I said they should call them nothing, that they should never even be visible to the end user, that they should just work seamlessly with everything else. And, if anyone ever asks how my computer turns that event listing into an entry in my calendar (whichever calendar I’m using) with a click of a button, I should say, “Magic” (unless they want to know more)


francine August 21, 2007 at 9:22 pm

Exactly, Tara. Don’t tell me how it works; tell me what it DOES.

Andy Mabbett August 22, 2007 at 2:47 am

I’m sorry you got a bad first impression of microformats; they’re really useful. You certainly don’t need to run Firefox to use them (though Firefox is great; but that’s a separate debate, for another time) nor do you have to use a plug-in (though the Operator plug-in, or extension, for Firefox is *really* great; but that’s…).

For example, on this page with “hCalendar” (or “event”) microformats, which I look after:

there’s an option to “download these events as an ‘.ics’ file, which you can then add to your calendar or diary programme”.

That link passes the page’s address to a service which converts the microformats into a format which can be opened by, then saved in, most calendar applications, such as Outlook. For pages without such a link, you can paste the address of a page with hCalendar microformat directly into

Similar services exist for contact details (“hCard” microformats; which can be added to your computer’s address book) and geographical coordinates (“Geo” microformats; which can be plotted on maps).

Your observations are well made, though – please consider joining the microformats mailing list ( and contributing there. Your voice will make a refreshing change from all the jargon!

We do need to do a lot of work to make the existing documentation more accessible to Granddogmas; perhaps you could help?

francine August 22, 2007 at 7:18 am

Done! No one sees the value of microformats more than I do. And I see the problem now; you have to build them into sites to people like Granddogma can use them. Granddogma doesn’t have to know how they work :_) They just have to be there and do what they are supposed to, like “add to calendar.”

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