Schema Actions are a way to communicate via markup on your web page the actions they enable and how these actions can be invoked. Technically, Schema.org describes it as:
An action performed by a direct agent and indirect participants upon a direct object. Optionally happens at a location with the help of an inanimate instrument. The execution of the action may produce a result. Specific action sub-type documentation specifies the exact expectation of each argument/role.
It seems like you can communicate the start and end time of an action, the desired outcome, result, location, and instrument used for the action. If I had to guess, it can be used to communicate the time it takes someone to do something, like cook a meal, write a book, and what the action and result of the action should be.
How Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Yandex may use this is unclear. I’ve asked both Microsoft and Google for a comment but I have yet to hear back.
I can see the rich snippets showing more data around specific websites with this markup, so before someone clicks on a result, they know the time it takes on average to go through the process.
For example, the time it takes to complete an online form or exam may be displayed in the search results, with the result displayed as well.
Here is the part of the vocabulary of this new Schema named Action:
Postscript: A Google spokesperson would not add any additional details outside of the original Schema.org blog post.
A Bing spokesperson however gave us answers to all our questions:
(A) The Action vocabulary is intended to be used primarily for describing actions that have taken place in the past [past actions] or could take place in the future [potential actions]. Let’s assume Barry shared an MSN article on Facebook yesterday. This is an example of a past action. Facebook might use schema.org to describe the action by indicating that Jason is the subject (agent) of the action, the action verb is sharing, and the object of the action is an MSN article. Now let’s say MSN wanted to expose the ability for applications to programmatically share an article on their website. This would be an example of a potential action. MSN might use schema.org to describe the potential action by indicating the action verb is ‘sharing’ and that you can perform this action by calling a specific URL.
(Q) How may Bing use this in the search results and is it being used now?
(A) Bing currently uses a draft version of the Actions vocabulary to power the recently released App Linking service. You can learn more about that via the Bing Dev Center and associated MSDN documentation. In addition to App Linking, there are a number of ways in which we might use the vocabulary to power new experiences in Bing and other Microsoft products. Unfortunately there are no definitive plans we can share at this time.
Note that Bing uses other schema.org vocabularies to power its rich web result captions as well. More information on that product is available in the Bing Webmaster Tools.
(Q) What are the goals here for webmasters?
(A) The primary goal of schema.org has always been to provide webmasters with a common vocabulary for use in describing their data. The new Actions vocabulary, especially the terms associated with potential actions, extends this goal to include describing services as well. By providing these descriptions, search engines like Bing and other applications that consume them can leverage the associated information to expose the data and services in a relevant and useful way.