“The first stage was getting really basic stuff accurate and marked up in a consistent way,” Moore told me. “The future aspects that are slightly different, and in many ways really interesting but obviously much more complex, are to do with the state of the article over a period of time, the sourcing of the article, or the particular people and places within the article.”

They also hope to enable a form of version history to track changes that have taken place within a story over a period of time, much the way Wikipedia does. If they can do that, they could of course embed correction and update information in the article. That’s where my vision of automated correction notifications begins to take shape.

For example, The New York Times asks people to register for a free account on their site. If the Times decided to encode every story using hNews, and the specification was advanced enough to include correction and updated information tags, then it would be possible to let readers sign up for notifications about the articles they read. The key is that everything would be automated: the hNews encoding would be built into the Times’s CMS, and users would (opt-in to) receive the relevant notifications. Suddenly, you can put relevant corrections and updates right in front of readers, and corrections become embedded in the relevant articles.

I don’t mean to make it sound easy. hNews is in its infancy and its effectiveness will be largely determined by its adoption rate. If it becomes a de facto standard for online news, and is built into major content management systems, then suddenly a world of things become possible. But if hNews is used by only a few news organizations, its value will be greatly diminished. Success requires Herculean effort by the hNews team, open-minded thinking by major news organizations and CMS developers, and the backing of major Web standards bodies.

But this is one microformat that’s worth some major effort.

Correction of the Week

“On November 5 we translated the name of Ed and Nancy Kienholz’s artwork at the National Gallery, The Hoerengracht, as ‘Gentlemen’s Canal’. This should have read ‘Whore’s Canal’. We apologise for the error.” – The Times (U.K.)

Update 2:10 PM, 11/13/2009: This article was updated after publication to note that hNews also receives funding from the MacArthur Foundation.

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Craig Silverman is the editor of RegretTheError.com and the author of Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He is also the editorial director of OpenFile.ca and a columnist for the Toronto Star.