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Keepin it simple

Saturday, December 27, 2008 by Dave Winer.

A picture named pupinpot.jpgEver since Twitter came out I've been developing mini-apps that connect it with other services and utilities. Some have stood up over time, esp the Flickr-to-Twitter and Twitter-to-Identi.ca functionality, and others have fallen into disuse. I thought that Voicemail-toTwitter was going to be a big one, but I don't use it much, though it's a simple call from my iPhone to create one and shoot it up to Twitter. All this experimentation was made possible by Twitter's simple API.  Permalink to this paragraph

Then, enter FriendFeed and its API, which does a bit more than Twitter's, but then FriendFeed does a lot more than Twitter. There were some things inexplicably missing from FriendFeed's API, I lobbied for them, but they either haven't appeared, or when they did, they didn't do what I asked for. I don't know or care why, that's not what this post is about. Rather it's to say in one place what I've learned about FriendFeed-like services, and leave behind the notes, either for FriendFeed itself or for a comparable service. Permalink to this paragraph

1. FriendFeed should both import and export OPML subscription lists. The attributes specified on opml.org are necessary and sufficient for it to work with all other feed reader software, as far as I know, because there was a minimal set of attributes at the beginning, when Radio 8 implemented OPML import/export. Permalink to this paragraph

I was able to create a simple utility that exports a user's OPML from FriendFeed, but for it to really work, it should export the addresses of the feeds the user is subscribed to, not the addresses of the FriendFeed users, which is all I can access through the API. It should be possible for the user to completely disconnect from friendfeed.com and take their subscriptions with them. This is another instance of "people come back to places that send them away" -- if you give people complete freedom to leave, they feel more comfortable about staying, building their presence on your service that may come in the future. Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named house.gif2. There should be a simple way to notify FF that a feed has updated. We developed such a capability in the blogging world and then the RSS world around a site I started called weblogs.com. The ping protocol it used is still widely supported today both on the sending side by blogging tools such as WordPress, TypePad, Moveable Type, Blogger, etc etc and on the receiving side by Technorati, Google, Yahoo you name it. There's even a centralized pinger started by Matt Mullenwegg, pingomatic.com, that makes it easy to send pings to everyone who cares. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that FF should support this protocol, it's very simple, it would take a couple of hours at most to implement. There's even a simpler REST version of the protocol if the XML-RPC version is too much.  Permalink to this paragraph

3. RSS description elements seem to be a big problem for FriendFeed, but I don't understand why. It's true that they are used for two different purposes: In the classic way, as the description of a longer article, or to contain the full text of an article. They can contain encoded markup. So, imho, this is how they should deal with descriptions. Say the maximum length of a comment in FF is 1024 characters (I'm not sure what the actual limit is, but it doesn't matter). First, strip all markup and then if the resulting string is longer than 1024, truncate it to 1021 characters and add three dots at the end to indicate that there's more. I don't see what else they need to do. It could be I'm missing something, of course -- Murphy's Law, etc. Permalink to this paragraph

In the last two cases, to get the behavior I've wanted I've had to code to the API, which seems very wrong, when there are feed-based ways to do both things. Low-tech is always the right way to go, imho. There are many people who can create feeds who can't program to an API, and they shouldn't have to for things that can be done with feeds. I know that FF has proposed richer mechanisms for change notification, I'm not going to comment on those at this time. But first, before going the complex route, support the common language already used in the market you're entering. You'll find the natives more friendly if you do, imho. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.

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