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Permanent link to archive for Tuesday, September 05, 2000. Tuesday, September 05, 2000

Is RSS worth caring about? 

Survey: How should RSS evolve? "There have been a lot of discussions recently about the evolution of RSS, a popular format for syndicating Web content. How do you think it should evolve?"

Red Herring: "Techies aren't the only ones enamored with WAP, the open standard that allows delivery of Internet data to mobile phones. Investors are also in love with its potential."

The Herring article makes a key point. RSS could be a reasonably high-stakes economic thing if we have a winning attitude. If it stays simple, eventually it will fit into WAP-space, it's probably already got more content flowing through it. With modest sprucing and tweaking, it can grow a lot more, without getting complex.

The political side of RSS 

Yesterday was a heated day in the RSS debate and we got pretty close to my core issue on this.

Why was the name "RSS 1.0" cooked up in secret and presented as a finished thing, before any of us had a chance to consider it or comment on it? The claim that it's just a proposal doesn't cut it. O'Reilly did not present it on their site that way. And now that we've actually asked users what they think, a substantial number of them think RSS is pretty good as it is.

David McCusker came closest to expressing my feelings at the way this was handled. "Who are you again?"

Moving towards resolution? 

Thanks to Dave Sims at O'Reilly for pointing to the DaveNet piece I ran on Sunday explaining my view of the value of RSS and our involvement with it. We spoke for a bit on the phone. This conversation, a frank and friendly one, opened my mind a bit to seeing how it looked from his point of view, inside O'Reilly, and not really in the RSS loop in a deep way. I learned a lot in this brief conversation.

Looking at the survey, if the results stay roughly proportional to the current percentages, it would be hard to argue that the Namespaces+RDF approach is the only reasonable way to go forward, nor would it be reasonable to say that there aren't a substantial number of people who want Namespaces+RDF. In other words, both approaches enjoy significant support.

Therefore, there must be two paths forward.

I would like to be part of a group of people who work on slowly evolving RSS 0.91 to become 0.92 and 0.93 and so on. I imagine getting onto a predictable six-month cycle, with commercial and open source tools tracking the development of new versions, much as there's a common tool set for XML. I outlined this approach in a post to the FoRK list earlier today.

(I got the idea from Rohit, he was urging TBL to come up with a similar cycle for HTML, and I think this would have been the right approach for heading off the browser wars between Netscape and Microsoft, a fear that the O'Reilly people voiced in the radio show they did a week ago.)

I also think the two efforts should be related. The Namespaces group can serve as a proving ground for new ideas in syndication, and when features in that thread gain substantial adoption, they can percolate into the core spec, without the need for webmasters to master namespaces. Or if in a couple of years namespaces seem like second nature to the webmasters, and they say they want them, let's roll them in.

I have my own opinion on where the wires got crossed. Part of the reason is that there are cultural barriers, even within the United States. I am from New York, even though I live in California, I tend to speak with force and conviction, when I think I know what's going on. RSS is one of the things I have strong convictions about, and my pov is different from many others, as are the conclusions I reach and the things I value. But people from the Midwest or The South or California hear something different. And people from the UK too. I have a booming voice, even in email and on the Web. My words may be strong, but when I go into the "please listen to me mode" it's because I have something to say, and I want to be heard, not that I want to hurt you.

On the other side, I think the people involved thought UserLand is Microsoft. We seem to be everywhere in this space. But we're actually a very small company and we don't want to stop anyone from doing cool stuff. We just want to be part of it. That's why we worked so hard to get RSS off the ground. And that's why I got so angry when we were cut out of the process.

While NYers talk loudly, sometimes midwesterners or Bostoners can be pretty mean in response. To Tim, that's the nasty personal game I was talking about. I was trying to tell you about this in email, but all you heard was "He's saying bad things about us again." I'm sorry, but I don't know how to say "You're screwing my company and our users" in a nice way. And at this point in my life, at age 45, I don't think I want to try to learn how to do that. I'd much rather avoid situations where I have to say it.

So let's leave RSS wide open to participation by any people who are willing to work together to move it forward, slowly and predictably. If no one shows up, or the group fails, the worst that could happen is that RSS stays right where it is, at the 0.91 level. And that's not so bad! But with a mandate for slow evolution, nothing revolutionary, no special features for aggregators or other fancy applications, perhaps it doesn't need to be much more than it already is.

And at the same time, let's have a place to work on the Namespaces+RDF approach. I'm not going to try to lead in either place. I want to work on Radio UserLand and related stuff. I would like to think that if my opinion was sought that no one would have a problem with me expressing it. Radio UserLand also reads RSS files in a pretty interesting way. And I'm a good writer and sometimes because of that I can ask a pointed question that might indicate a problem in documentation or usability, or maybe a better way to organize things so they'll be easier to understand. These are the the things I like to do.

Also if you give me a chance, I'm good at helping people work together, believe it or not. This doesn't mean I want to dominate or control, it means I want to help. We all have our strengths. All I want to do is apply my strengths in this area, as an investment, and hope to be able to reap profits from that investment in the future, when RSS becomes the monster format that so many people think it can.

Which reminds me of a story. (Of course.) A long time ago, just after shipping a version of Frontier for the Mac, the Frontier-Work list erupted in a huge flamewar. I mean huuuuge. A quiet voice, I don't remember who it was, posted a message saying "You guys should be celebrating not fighting!" I remember flaming him in response, in total agreement.

Sometimes the tempers get unreal, and the positions so dug in, that you can't remember that it's OK to feel good about having accomplished something important. RSS is important. It's worth fighting over, and it's also worth working together on.

Thanks for listening.

Today's song 

Julie Andrews: My Favorite Things. "Cream colored ponies, and crisp apple strudels, doorbells and sleigh bells, and schnitzel with noodles!"

I wonder if she likes spicy noodles with her wiener schnitzel?

Blades of grass 

Arf, the czar of NetDyslexia, shows how he turns a regular DG message into a Euroblogs directory entry.

Alwin Hawkins: "This is a screenshot of me editing my left navigation bar using a *story* from my ETP site. I think this is one of the coolest features; it allows me to organize my navigation links into several different topics and edit them seperately."

Garret Vreeland editing the navigation links on the Davos Newbies site using Radio UserLand.

Andrea Frick likes using the search engine connection for Manila.

Mike Donnelan editing Black Hole Brain in Radio UserLand. (Note he's using the Web browser built into RU. You might have to look twice. It's a browser that has a powerful editor and database, built-in. And a content management system too. Nyheeeyheey.)

Dan Mitchell editing his site.

Another interview 

PC World: "As time goes forward, it will become apparent that there is one virtual computer on the planet, and we're all users of it," says Winer.

That, btw, is my version of the Dot-Net initiative. Microsoft couldn't say it that concisely because it would freak everyone out. But I can!

Adam Curry on Formats 

Adam Curry: "The real sweet stuff comes in when you as a user are able to tweak the format, perhaps I just don't want any news at all, then I could simply eliminate that box from my format. Likewise I could set a rule stating that I never want to hear Madonna. It truly will become My Radio Station."

Business Week on MORE 

Charles Haddad: "One thing Nisus Writer doesn't have is an outliner. Now you can have a great one for free. It's called More, and although it was discontinued several years ago, many observers still consider the program the best of its kind. Famed programmer Dave Winer wrote More. He has regained the rights to the program and posted it online."

Movement in SOAP-land 

SJ Merc: Microsoft, IBM, Ariba to create B2B directory. "The three software providers will unveil a standard system to categorize and search for businesses that offer services over the Web. They said the system will help spur transactions between businesses over the Internet. Next month, the three companies will begin creating and operating a central database that will manage and store all the directory information."

It's all SOAP. Excellent. Let's get rolling. The sooner the better.

Miscellaneous news stories 

Upside: The death of the alpha vendor.


Last update: Wednesday, September 06, 2000 at 2:17 AM Eastern.

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