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Twitter posts don't have titles
By Dave Winer on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 10:35 AM.

A picture named try.jpgAlong with Radio2 comes a new kind of RSS feed, one that really works for microblogs. #

In the last few days, since Twitter announced their new developer roadmap, there's been a fair amount of writing done about using RSS as the basis for a distributed version of what Twitter does.  #

People who read this blog will already be familiar with this idea. #

However one thing I haven't seen anyone write about is the question of titles. This is a big issue, the reason why it's hard to do what Twitter does in RSS, but thankfully not impossible. #

Here's the thing. Twitter posts don't have titles. #

No matter how you look at it, they don't have them. When you go to twitter.com all you get is a prompt that asks "What's happening?" In a sense this is the title of every Twitter post, without the question mark.  #

When you're constructing a minimal blogging tool, you have to allow for posts that don't have titles. And if you want Twitter users to be comfortable with it, that must be the default behavior.  #

Then if you look at the RSS feeds that Twitter generates, you'll notice that they reproduce the text of the tweet in both the title and the description. It looks awful in my aggregator, and I bet it looks awful in others. But if I were them, I might have done it this way. I assume this is because there are feed readers that won't deal with items that don't have titles. I think Google Reader works this way. So if you want to read a Twitter feed in Google Reader, and that must have been their number one feature request, and if the Google Reader guys aren't willing to budge, then go ahead and echo the tweet text in both places. #

I didn't go that way. I read the RSS 2.0 spec again, to be sure I had it right, and there's no requirement that an item have a title. "All elements of an item are optional, however at least one of title or description must be present." There's a reason for that, it's not an accident. Early blogs, like scripting.com, had posts without titles. If RSS was going to work for those blogs (and I had an incentive to make it work that way) it had to be permissible for items to not have titles. Any reader that can't handle them isn't really a RSS-reader, it's a subset-of-RSS-reader. #

So my feeds won't be readable in those tools. Which is, to me, a feature not a bug. Because those guys seriously need to take another look at their product, in the age of Twitter, because they're not dealing with a very popular form of content. And they could be doing it, with a simple fix, and they should be looking at a retrofit in the near future, to become part of the distributed network that will develop alongside Twitter. As now seems virtually inevitable. #

One more thing, if you've been reading the feeds that emanate from Radio2, you would have noticed that there's a new namespace coming along with it, called microblog. It's a place where I'm putting items that are needed to properly represent a microblog in RSS. If you're interested in this stuff you should have a look. #

Here's an example of a feed, my linkblog, the one that flows to Twitter. If you follow me there, you will recognize the content. :-) #

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