Internet technology hosted by Berkman Center

Advisory Board

Thursday, July 17, 2003

On July 15, 2003, UserLand Software transferred ownership of its RSS 2.0 specification to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. UserLand is a leading developer of tools that produce and consume RSS, and originator of the RSS 2.0 specification.

The specification is now licensed under terms that allow it to be customized, excerpted and republished, using the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike license. The UserLand disclaimer and copyright is archived on the Harvard website; however it now no longer applies to the RSS 2.0 specification. Since UserLand specifically disclaimed ownership of the format that the specification describes, no transfer took place on the format itself.

An independent advisory board has been formed to broaden the public understanding of the uses and benefits of RSS, and to guide developers who create RSS applications.

When the RSS spec was published by UserLand Software, the responsibility for answering questions about the document fell to UserLand. Over time as RSS became more popular this became awkward. Since UserLand is also a vendor of tools that build on RSS, was UserLand speaking as guardian of RSS or as a competitor? This concern was raised by vendors in the RSS application space; to address the concern, this advisory board was set up to support and advocate for RSS.

The initial members of the board were Dave Winer, Berkman fellow and author of the RSS 2.0 spec; Jon Udell, lead analyst for InfoWorld and columnist for the O'Reilly Network; and Brent Simmons of Ranchero Software, author of NetNewsWire, a leading RSS-based application.

The current board consists of three members: Rogers Cadenhead, Adam Curry, and Steve Zellers. Founding member Dave Winer resigned from the board in June 2004. When the board makes a decision it will be by majority vote.

Those are the basic facts about the advisory board. Now to answer some likely questions.

Is the advisory board a standards body? 

No. It will not create new formats and protocols. It will encourage and help developers who wish to use RSS 2.0. Since the format is extensible, there are many ways to add to it, while remaining compatible with the RSS 2.0 specification. We will help people who wish to do so.

What does the advisory board actually do? 

We answer questions, write tech notes, advocate for RSS, make minor changes to the spec per the roadmap, help people use the technology, send flowers to developers, maintain a directory of compatible applications, accept contributions from community members, and otherwise do what we can to help people and organizations be successful with RSS.

Will the advisory board expand? 

Quite possibly. We will always have an odd number of members, since a majority vote is required for all questions answered by the board.

Is RSS controlled by one person? 

No. Each of the advisors must make up his or her own mind on the issues that come before the board. Each member has one vote. In order for any member's point of view to prevail he or she must convince at least one other member to vote the same way.

What's the first task for the board? 

To carefully review the RSS 2.0 specification in its new context. Quite a few documents moved, there probably are broken links. Help from the community is requested. The first thing to be sure of is that all the changes were actually made, and made correctly. Basically to QA the spec. After the dust has settled we'll discuss how to proceed.