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Reviewing the MediaPost story about RSS

Thursday, April 8, 2004

An article in MediaDailyNews by Ross Fadner about RSS is quite confused. From time to time, rather than just shake my head and say nothing, I'll try to help the press sort out the spin from the truth in RSS-land. DW

"Atom, an open source XML Syndication format" 

Both formats are open.

The term "open source" can't be applied to a format.

Neither is more or less open.

"Many information technology (IT) professionals believe that because Atom is an open standard and because Google has selected Atom as its preferred syndication format, Atom will soon displace RSS as the dominant XML" 

Google is in the minority on this. Later in the article they list some of the publications that syndicate their content. They all use RSS. Whether they'll change or not is another question. I'd love to know which IT professionals believe that Atom will "soon displace RSS" and be able to ask them why they believe this. This is one of those times when it would be nice if a journalist provided the sources for a claim.

Personally, I don't see any reason for a publication that already has a working syndication implementation to change to a new format. In engineering, "If it ain't broke don't fix it" is a pretty common strategy. RSS works. I think Google would be wise to stop fighting RSS, and get on board. There are lots of ways that RSS could provide new features for their users. That's what matters.

"RSS founder and arbiter, Harvard fellow Dave Winer, has been criticized for exercising undue control over the syndication medium, prompting IT-industry innovators to create the new open source syndication technology." 

There's the open source mistake again. True, I have been criticized. Now as to whether I exercise undue control -- I wish I had been interviewed me for this piece, so I could explain why no one person actually controls RSS, and certainly not me. I think you've bought into some hype, and wish you had given me a chance to explain before you wrote this piece.

I think people criticize me for their inability to rewrite the rules of syndication, they think they should be allowed to. Even if they convinced me, it wouldn't matter. RSS has been broadly deployed for a long time. You need to persuade lots of people to change what they're doing, and it's not enough to complain about or criticize them. If I asked them to support your syndication strategy du jour, they'd ask me why. I wouldn't know how to answer that. So do your homework before criticizing others. It's hard work to get people to adopt something new, and there are no shortcuts.

"Bloggers, however, tend to be most actively involved in XML syndication" 

I wonder what this means. Perhaps it means that the people who flame on the mail lists generally tend to be bloggers and not system managers at big publications, who implement RSS without wanting to change how it works.

"Syndication currently faces a standardization problem" 

This was a characterization of what Tom Hespos said, but he goes on to say that there isn't a killer app yet. That has nothing to do with standardization. The article doesn't prove that there is a standardization issue, although it tries to. Lots of people have predicted the demise of RSS over the years, but it keeps growing bigger and stronger every year. Maybe some day people will stop wanting to reinvent it, and decide to just use it without making such a fuss.