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Netscape and RSS

Friday, August 14, 2009 by Dave Winer.

Interesting sequence of events. Permalink to this paragraph

Marc Canter writes a blog post asking if we should trust Marc Andreessen, after the hole Netscape left its users in when they sold out to AOL. He makes some good points about the browser, esp the part about how they blamed Microsoft for their demise. I think they could have survived it, if they had gotten their software act together. Instead we had five or six years of Microsoft dominance of the browser market, and those were not good years for the web.  Permalink to this paragraph

But Canter overlooked one thing, without Netscape there never would have been RSS. I said this in a tweet. "Really???" asks Rbonini. Really. Permalink to this paragraph

Here's the sequence of events that led to RSS 0.91. Obviously this is from my point of view, but all these things did happen and all were necessary for RSS to become what it is today. Permalink to this paragraph

1. In 1997, as an experiment to satisfy Adam Bosworth, who was pestering me (jn a nice way) about XML, I produced a syndication of my "news site" -- Scripting News. I called the format scriptingNews format. Permalink to this paragraph

2. In 1998, almost nothing happened with this format. A few experiments, but it looked like it was going nowhere. I had other XML-based projects that appeared to have much more promise.  Permalink to this paragraph

3. Then in 1999, Netscape comes out with RSS 0.90. It does most of what scriptingNews does, and a few things it didn't do. And vice versa. At first I was upset, they had mostly ignored my work, been incompatible when it would have (imho) been easier to be compatible.  Permalink to this paragraph

4. Then I did one of the smartest things I ever did. I surrendered unconditionally. They didn't even ask me to. I adopted their format. Wholesale. Discarded my old format. The way I figured it, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Because, and this is the key point -- they had support from content companies, notably Wired, Salon, Red Herring and Motley Fool. In one step, swallowing my pride, little old Scripting News and all the allied sites that used my software, could join the club. So I did it. Goodbye scriptingNews, hello RSS. (It's a little more complicated, I left out a few steps, but this is the net-effect.) Permalink to this paragraph

Maybe some other BigCo would have come along and do what they did, but with the benefit of hindsight, none did. It was years before the other tech companies adopted RSS, they came in after the publishing industry, led by the New York Times. It seems that scriptingNews format would have continued doing nothing. I could claim to have invented it, but no one would have cared. Permalink to this paragraph

Fact is, Netscape did something unusual there, something good. They were a big company that actually stuck their neck out and did something worthwhile. Did Andreessen play a role in it? I have no idea. But the company he started did it, so if he takes responsibility for the bad stuff, seems he ought to get credit for the good stuff. Permalink to this paragraph

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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 54, 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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