With the release of the first public beta of Internet Explorer 8, two new features come to light: Activities and WebSlices. You can see a demo of both in Joshua Allen’s interview with Jane Kim. I think of Activities as next-generation bookmarklets, and also as kissing cousins to the OpenSearch providers that you can add to the browser’s search box.

WebSlices are something else again. They transform pieces of web pages into little feeds that you can subscribe to. For all its power and utility, feed syndication hasn’t yet really sunk into the consciousness of most people. I’m hoping that WebSlices, which are dead simple to create, will help bridge the gap.

Here’s a complete working example of a page with two slices:

<div class="hslice" id="1">  
<p class="entry-title">Slice 1</p>  
<p class="entry-content">This is slice 1.</p>

<div class="hslice" id="2">  
<p class="entry-title">Slice 2</p>  
<p class="entry-content">This is slice 2.</p>

The syntax is based on the hAtom microformat, which in turn is a subset of the Atom feed format. For my purposes here, ’nuff said about that. I’m much more interested in what users will see, do, and understand. Let’s view that page in IE8:

The orange feed icon in the toolbar changes to a (presumably not final) purplish thingy. And when I hover over the second slice, another of those pops up. Both are lit, indicating there’s fresh content.

From either the toolbar or the inline hover, I can subscribe (to just the second slice) like so:

It shows up as a favorite, bolded to indicate fresh content:

From another page, I can peek at the slice’s content by clicking its button:

But when you click Favorites->Feeds, you’ll see it’s also a conventional feed:

I like this for a couple of reasons. First, because it will give microformats a big boost, and propel the data web forward. Second, because it will introduce many more people to the whole idea of subscribing to feeds. There’s a big conceptual barrier there that we haven’t yet brought most people across. I’m hoping that a new way of subscribing to a new kind of feed will also raise awareness about the old ways of subscribing to conventional feeds.