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Open letter to

without comments

This open letter to Google, Bing and Yahoo!, following the launch, was first published at on 7th June, 2011


Let me first say how good news it is to learn about the launch of Consistent, structured metadata is a very good thing. Structured metadata will not only help search, it should provide a more solid foundation for the future of the web.

We also have a request. A request that you seriously consider integrating principles to (expressed as rel-principles in hNews). This should be to the benefit of individuals and organisations producing news, and to the benefit of the public. Below I explain why.

We have been developing and evangelising about consistent metadata in news for over three years. During that time we successfully developed hNews – a microformat for news – with the Associated Press, and thanks to support from a Knight News Challenge award and from a MacArthur Foundation grant. hNews has now been integrated to over 1,200 news sites across the US.

hNews will continue to be relevant and useful to all those publishing in HTML4 since it is light, simple, and easy to integrate. For individuals and organisations who want the benefits of consistent metadata without having to make a major investment, hNews will be the most sensible approach.

But, as news organisations move to HTML5 it will make sense for them to adopt HTML5 standards. Microdata schema is one of these. This is a natural and positive development, and contains many of the same values as hNews.

There is, however, an important property missing – principles. This property would provide a link to the statement of principles, if any, to which an article adheres. It does not define what those principles ought to be, or what they should or should not include, it just links to them. In hNews this is expressed as rel-principles. You can see an example of an embedded link to principles at the AP’s essential news – click on the blue ‘P’ at the top (e.g.

There are three reasons why a machine readable link to principles is so important and in the interests of

  • It tells people it’s news: we all used to know what people meant when they talked about ‘news’. It was that thing which was produced by journalists and published by news organisations. That is no longer the case. News can be produced and published by anyone and sits within a huge ecology of other media content. There is no easy way to tell if something is meant to be ‘news’ unless someone describes it as such
  • It distinguishes news from other web content: link to news principles and suddenly people – and search engines – can distinguish news from other content on the web – particularly from personal, government or commercial content. This is not only helpful for search but has a social value too
  • It explains what news is: news is generally informed by certain values, even if these are sometimes subconscious. We used to take these for granted when news was printed or broadcast. We can’t now. We need to know where news comes from and what has informed its production. Basic information like how wrote it and when it was written get us part way there. But to get any further we need to have access to the principles – if any – to which the news adheres.

Of course it is already perfectly possible for people to link to principles of their own accord using microdata or microformats. But, as we have learnt over the last three years, organisations are unlikely to add metadata unless they can see a direct advantage. If principles was within the core schema then it would significantly increase the likelihood that news organisations would add it.

Adding principles to would benefit search and assessment. It would also help the future of news.

That is why we think it would make sense to integrate principles to We would, of course, be delighted to talk more about it. Please do get in touch – all contact details at

Written by Martin Moore

June 30th, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Posted in Metadata

Tagged with , , ,