Berkman Hosts RSS 2.0 spec
Monday, July 28, 2003 by Dave Winer.
On July 15, UserLand Software transferred ownership of its RSS 2.0 specification to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.
Berkman then placed a Creative Commons license on the spec, allowing it to be customized, excerpted and republished. Since UserLand specifically disclaimed ownership of the format, no transfer took place on the RSS 2.0 format.
An advisory board, independent of Berkman and Harvard, was formed to broaden the public understanding of the uses and benefits of RSS, and to guide developers who create RSS applications. The initial members of the board are Jon Udell, lead analyst for InfoWorld and columnist for the O'Reilly Network; Brent Simmons of Ranchero Software, author of NetNewsWire, a leading RSS-based application, and myself.
I wrote about the transfer on Scripting News on July 18. The Crimson, Harvard's student newspaper, as usual, got a great story. "Harvard Law Schoolís Berkman Center for Internet and Society has acquired the most popular specification for Internet weblogs, RSS 2.0, making Harvard a leading institution in one of the Internetís most popular trends." They do such an excellent job at the Crimson. Thanks!
Charles Cooper, at News.Com, covered it from the industry side. "Instead of opting for a proprietary land grab, a company that was an RSS tools builder freely gave up its guardianship to a nonprofit trust."
As a UserLand board member, I'm glad he noticed. The company benefits if RSS grows. It didn't need to own the spec in order for RSS to grow. Since a vibrant and competitive market had already grown around RSS, we felt strongly that it was time to let the spec move freely. It didn't need our protection any longer, it's a strong broadly-supported format, with lots of support from publications and technology companies that have an interest in its remaining simple and consistent.
Cooper said "Politics doesn't always have to trump good sense." RSS, for all the battles about it, is a testament to that principle. We're accumulating links to articles about RSS in the directory at the new RSS 2.0 website at Berkman.
The BBC, News.Com, NY Times, Christian Science Monitor, Knight-Ridder, Wired, the American Bar Association, Cornell Law School, and hundreds of other publications publish feeds that conform to the RSS 2.0 specification.
Thousands of weblog sites syndicate in RSS 2.0, alongside the professional publications, making RSS a democratic format that levels the playing field and provides a venue where amateurs and professionals can compete on equal terms.
One of the key features of RSS 2.0 is its extensibility. Any developer can add new modules to the format and lobby other developers to support their extensions. In a phone talk with AOL developers last week we encouraged them to take the lead in multimedia and community extensions, areas where they have expertise, and power due their enormous installed base.
The RSS advisory board offers its help to any developer who has a vision to extend RSS. There's room for infinite innovation in this most popular XML-based format. It's already a very rich vocabulary, and every developer has the power to extend it.
So things are looking pretty good. The RSS 2.0 spec is almost universally supported, it's extensible, and now the spec is distributed by a non-profit with a fresh slate in the world of technology. The spec can circulate freely thanks to the Creative Commons. Things are looking up. I think my work with RSS may be coming to a happy conclusion. Getting pretty close.