What’s happening with XFN?

Continuing a review of those “things” that end up in the head of our documents and proceed to nest there indefinitely, I ran across the XFN profile. This immediately made me wonder, what’s up with XFN?

I tweeted the following, but didn’t get a response: “Other than @WordPress, does anyone do anything with #xfn anymore? Most of the @microformats XFN implementation links are dead.” Since the #lazyweb didn’t pull through for me, this blog post is the result. As a bonus, I also review what XFN is and how to use it. Hopefully, maybe, this will generate enough good karma that someone knowledgeable will leave a comment below and fill me in.

tl;dr: XFN is an awesome concept that’s easy to implement, but probably not worth even that small amount of time, energy and bandwidth due to a lack of consuming services or apps.

What is XFN?

XFN is a way to represent human relationships by using the rel attribute of hyperlinks with a controlled vocabulary.1 It’s the “original” microformat, and was introduced in December 2003 by GMPG2 at a time when blogging was going mainstream and blogrolls were increasing popular.1

Why it’s awesome

XFN was about the social graph a year before Facebook was even launched. The concept:

XFN puts a human face on linking. As more people have come online and begun to form social networks, services such as Technorati and Feedster have arisen in an attempt to show how the various nodes are connected. Such services are useful for discovering the mechanical connections between nodes, but they do not uncover the human relationships between the people responsible for the nodes.3

On the practical side, the great thing about XFN is that it’s really easy to do. First, add the XFN profile to the head element of your document: <link rel="profile" href="http://gmpg.org/xfn/11">. Then add one or more of the values from the “XFN quick reference” table to the rel attribute of the a element.4

XFN quick reference
Relationship category XFN values
Friendship (at most one): friend, acquaintance, contact
Physical: met
Professional: co-worker, colleague
Geographical (at most one): co-resident, neighborhodd
Family (at most one): child, parent, sibling, spouse, kin
Romantic: muse, crush, date, sweetheart
Identity: me


Does even this little bit of effort and bandwidth make sense?

The Google Social Graph API is gone. Most of the “new” implementations on the “XFN Implementions” page of Microformats.org are dead. The GMPG’s “XFN: What’s Out There?” page includes a notice that “WordPress has shipped release 1.0 with user friendly support for XFN!” Yikes! WordPress 1.0 was released in January 2004!

And the litany doesn’t stop. The Operator add-on for Firefox hasn’t been updated since 2010. I think Technorati may have used the XFN data once, but Technorati… Oh, Technorati…

Is anyone actually consuming, mapping or using the XFN data that’s out there? It doesn’t seem like it.


  1. GMPG. (2003). “XHTML Friends Network.” Retrieved 23 April 2013, from http://gmpg.org/xfn/
  2. XHTML Friends Network. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved 23 April 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XHTML_Friends_Network
  3. GMPG. (2003). “XFN: Introduction and Examples.” Retrieved 23 April 2013, from http://gmpg.org/xfn/intro
  4. GMPG. (2003). “XFN: Getting Started” Retrieved 23 April 2013, from http://gmpg.org/xfn/join

Learn more

The best way to learn more about XFN and how to use it is to read the GMPG material cited in the “References” section above. Microformats.org also has a lot of material (unsurprisingly, see the “PS FYI” below) on XFN under http://microformats.org/wiki/xfn.

Chris Messina wrote a really interesting post, “Portable contact lists and the case against XFN,” in 2008. This might seem a bit old, but since the majority of the XFN stuff is from 2004ish…


GMPG was founded in March 2003 by Tantek Çelik, Eric Meyer and Matthew Mullenweg after they met at SXSW. Tantek Çelik would later introduce and define the term microformats and Matthew Mullenweg is the creator of WordPress.

2 thoughts on “What’s happening with XFN?

  1. Came here after googling around to see if XFN was still a Thing at all. I’m a fan of the concept, and I still slavishly ensure any links in my blog posts are properly microformatted with XFN relationships. To what end? I have no idea. Nothing has really replaced XFN, but then I started caring about the concept (and blogging, really) after XFN had, I guess, jumped the shark.

    It would be nice if there were something to be done with it. A lot of it may be faded into history, but I’m sure there are plenty of XFN’ed links out there, waiting to shine.

  2. As great an idea as XFN was, it looks as if it died an unlamented death. As well-stated above, other microformats have far surpassed XFN. NFN, we hardly knew ye.

Leave a Reply