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Did you invent RSS?
By Dave Winer on Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 10:51 AM.

Bill Gates didn't invent the PC. Steve Jobs didn't invent graphic operating systems. Marc Andreessen didn't invent the web browser.  permalink

Mail lists existed long before Craig Newmark started Craig's List. Ward Cunningham implemented the first wiki, but Jimmy Wales built it up to world scale with Wikipedia.  permalink

Inventing isn't something that happens the way most people think it does. Or they use the word "invent" as a shorthand.  permalink

BTW, I didn't invent blogs, nor did I have the first blog. But I did write the first blogging software, and hacked at it until it was easy enough for millions of people to use.  permalink

Today it may be hard to understand that, before blogging, web content management was thought to require programmers. I rejected that idea, and fought it. And I was definitely in the minority. permalink

I didn't come up with the idea for podcasting, but I recognized its importance, built the technology and implemented the software, and did some of the first podcasts to show people that they could do it too.  permalink

When people introduce me, they often say I invented RSS. Rather than argue, I smile and accept the compliment and thank them, and enjoy the glow.  permalink

But I didn't invent RSS. It isn't the kind of thing that gets invented. Not in the sense of Eureka! I just invented RSS.  permalink

A picture named loverss.jpgIf you've ever watched James Burke's Connections series, the invention of RSS was more a chain of events like that. News wires, CDF, XML, Microsoft, Adam Bosworth, Vignette, Netscape (with Wired, Red Herring, Salon and Motley Fool), My.Netscape, My.UserLand, blogging tools, NY Times. permalink

RSS wasn't invented but it did become a standard. permalink

Every step in that chain was necessary to get to the point where the Times could get on board, and there was enough software and users that it mattered. But looking back, the moment when RSS 2.0 came out, followed by the NY Times stories flowing through it, that was the point when the fighting stopped and mass-scale deployment began. That was the moment of standardization. And my contribution was that I marshalled the users, software, content and yes, the tech industry so they were all marching in the same direction. This, imho, was a lot harder than merely having an idea! :-) permalink

All this became clearer to me in a meeting yesterday with a major news publisher, in a 38th floor office overlooking the NY skyline. He said the publishing industry could never agree on anything like what we were talking about. I said "but they agreed on RSS." That turned the conversation in an interesting direction.  permalink

I always marvelled at how the publishing industry didn't fight the way the tech industry does. I learned yesterday that this is not true. The publishing execs probably didn't understand what they were doing by supporting RSS, but the Times was doing it, so it must be okay. (I guess, I'm an outsider to the publishing industry.) permalink

The conversation continued. He asked why there was so much fighting over RSS. I said the tech industry doesn't like it when users prove they don't need them. That's probably why RSS has never been popular among the most powerful engineers at the big tech companies. It makes what they do seem less interesting. Of course that's why I like it, and that's why it made some important things possible. permalink

I believed then and now that it's what the users do with technology that's interesting. We, who write software, are an important part of the chain, but the real innovation comes when our technology is used. It's the same principle as unconferences. There's more intelligence in the audience, so let's focus our attention there, rather than select a handful of people and only listen to them. It's also the theme of media in the 21st century, and it's radically different from the way media worked in the previous century. permalink

And I think it's going to be important again, as the tech industry fights over who has the right to do what with the user's data. The problem they're going to have with RSS is that it lives outside their clouds, for the most part. It's been very interesting to watch TechCrunch covering the fight between Facebook and Google over user's contact data. I want to create data in places and ways that it isn't subject to that kind of manipulation. That is what RSS is and was all about.  permalink

RSS is a pretty good thing to have installed so widely. I think it's going to turn out to be a bit of a dormant seed, lying in wait, largely forgotten while we all learned about social networks. One day we're going to wake up and realize there's still a lot we can do with all those feeds that are still updating. And we're going to be glad that they aren't owned by Oracle, Microsoft, Google, Apple or Facebook. permalink

Anyway to answer the question posed in the title of this piece, if you want to say I invented RSS, if it's a shorthand for all this michegas, go ahead. But it would be more accurate to say I made it a standard. That I think is the true story, the true accomplishment.  permalink

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