Brian's Waste of Time

Wed, 10 Mar 2004

Syndication Sillyness

Dave Winer posted an entry basically saying (paraphrased) "lots and lots of people use RSS, and I'm willing to compromise with the deviant Atom mob, as long as compromise is spelled RSS 2.0. Did I mention that lots of people use RSS?" It's sort of funny, and sad.

What is interesting is that the conversation is completely in terms of weblogs. Who cares about weblogs? I'm serious. The existing technology completely meets the needs of weblogs -- in fact it far surpasses the needs. What about the rest of the syndicated content? (Oh yeah, what other syndicated content?)

I want (and am willing to put my foot where my mouth is) syndicated updates of shared imap folders, file shares, server events, application events, phone calls, escalated helpdesk events, etc -- ubiquitous content. RSS cannot really hack this (it has trouble being reliably parsed just for weblogs), and I am discovering that Atom has trouble as well (unless you add meaning in places the developing spec doesn't imply but doesn't disallow) but goes a lot further in the right direction.

I sympathize with Dave about the Atom lack-of-visible-decision-making-process, but it at least tries to create a precise and accurate specification, and succeeds to some degree (I still wish the feed format were XSD-able -- the WSDL for the API (bad idea to include that baggage, imho) locks down the element order in its context (as it must to be WSDL). Furthermore, Sam acknowledged this by trying for an IETF working group for the format and protocols -- that should sort out the visible decision making at least.

HTML is frequently used as an example of worse-is-better (which people invoke on RSS's behalf) but HTML is a weak document format already pushed past its limits -- the WWW that people give HTML credit for is much more due to HTTP (much more tightly specified) than HTML; and TCP/IP is way beyond that. As you work down the protocol stack it gets ever more tightly specified. If anyone wants to stop seeing syndication as what is important and start seeing content and derived information as what is important, a format for moving that around in a reliably parsable manner needs to exist. That is what at least what the people I have met who are involved with Atom are trying to do. RSS seems to be about weblogs and... weblogs.

Worse is only better when the technology is a cul-de-sac. It establishes a local peak, but can never escape the local peak.

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