Why titles matter

As RSS channels proliferate, the absence of titles becomes more painful. Why wasn't the title element required in RSS .9x? Probably to ensure a low activation threshold for use of RSS. It's a chicken-and-egg situation. Set the bar too high, and people won't play the game. Set it too low, though, and as more people play, frustrations emerge.

I expect I'll want to be able to scan and process dozens of channels before long, and hundreds eventually. The fact that many channels lack titles (never mind well-written ones) will become a burden. I already long for a Show Titles Only switch on Radio's news page.

Whether blogging is or is not a kind of journalism, one of the tenets of journalism -- heads, decks, and leads -- does apply. This is not just some pedantic rule. It is an engineering principle, really, and one that enables an information display to scale. Blogger Pro, I notice, supports optional titles, but not (yet) RSS.

Titles can and maybe should remain optional. As community servers proliferate, useful flow will occur in many small groups within which formal information layering -- while always helpful -- is less crucial. As federation across those communities begins to happen, though, sources that structure themselves carefully will be more powerful than ones that don't. Tools that encourage and reward this strategy will become more valuable.

Titles form a human-useable namespace. Large-scale information systems that can be used effectively by humans require exactly such a namespace. It's hard to write titles at all, never mind write them well. That's why even when required (as in email's Subject: header) titles are rarely as helpful as they ought to be. Will this change in blogspace? Maybe no. But then again, maybe yes. In an environment where pageviews and channel fetches are visible and ranked, Darwinian forces may tend to favor the fittest information sources. Clean structure isn't the only measure of fitness, but it's an important one.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2002/03/03.html#a98