RSS olive branches

In the summer of 2000 I wrote a report that explored the uses of Internet-style groupware for scientific collaboration. In Section 3 I tried to show an audience of scientists how the two-way information flow of blogging and RSS newsfeed aggregation could support and accelerate the collaboration that is at the heart of the scientific enterprise.

Two years later, I'd make the same argument. And I'd probably have to. Despite massive uptake of blogging in certain circles, I don't see evidence that it has made much of a dent in scientific communities. The same is true, I think, in many other professions. Blogging seems huge to those of us engaged in it, and in important ways it is. Culturally, it represents a style of communication that is genuinely new. Technically, it may be the most popular application of XML. But blogging is still a drop in the ocean of email. It's far from ubiquitous, and at the ETech conference, both Sam Ruby and I were surprised to see how little-understood RSS feeds were even among experienced bloggers.

From a fifty-thousand-foot perspective, the squabble over RSS formats looks like a tempest in a teapot. Neither the simplicity of RSS .9x nor the extensibility of RSS 1.0 matters to someone who has yet to experience the "virtuous cycle" that is only recently being discovered by so many -- for example, Don Box :

While spending my evening with RSS, I had two epiphanies:

The connection between blogging and RSS is deep. WS-IL is the closest we have to RSS in the web service space.

With respect to the first observation, the cycle looks something like this:

while (true) {

What an amazingly virtuous cycle!

I submit that we're still at the beginning of the RSS adoption curve. To insiders, it seems as though the squabble has gone on forever, but I don't think outsiders see that. Up to a point, we can put band-aids on the wound, but it does need to be healed -- and I don't think it's too late. It's encouraging to see Dave Winer's statement in favor of namespaces and modular extensibility in the RSS 0.94 roadmap. Will the RSS 1.0 camp offer an olive branch of its own? I hope so.

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