Indeed, microformats are not an alternative for RDF, not even a “poor man’s version”. But that was not a design goal at any time. What’s more: microformats are no first class semantic web objects in any way either. Rather, they are the simplest imaginable solution for semantically correct markup, limited to the most common data formats out there.
To rephrase the microformats charter, they want to be the common man’s solution, aimed at the well intending webmaster crowd. As such, microformats can be hugely successful (analogue to the “html as tag soup” success story). Fine.
Next, as we end up having millions of valid items of hCard, hReview and what not on the web, there is GRDDL to instantly promote all this content in full fledged RDF.
The good news is that we have all components currently available – many microformats are auto-generated from well designed CMS templates – and GRDDL is a Proposed Recommendation since 6 July 2007.
What we’re waiting for, is a business need to discover, transform and aggregate all of this data. I would be surprised if nobody is working on this, right now. Google, or a Google killer?
Bottom line: the semantic web has been lacking real world content for too long (not withstanding DBPedia and Freebase and such) and real world applications for the common man. Microformats can and will have a place in advocacy for this large target audience, people who grasp html and basic data constructs, but who are not interested in graph theory.
This audience will only jump on the bandwagon if they can instantly understand the intent from view source inspection. Compare the success of RSS 2.0 over the semantically superior (but more complex, RDF based) RSS 1.0 version.
In the end it will just not matter, most content will be “good enough” to be useful for the semweb (through GRDDL transformations and screen scraping), just like today’s html is good enough to be rendered, in some way, in our web browsers. By that time we will have a load of other problems, like semantic spam, the need for provenance tracking and trust levels for semantic information. But that is another story…
Update: Semantic Report writes about Using Microformats to Get Started with the Semantic Web. So, there then!