Atom's debut

Tim Bray reports that Atom 1.0 is essentially done, pending some minor dotting of i's and crossing of t's, and points to this comparison between RSS 2.0 and Atom 1.0. The document does a fair job of highlighting the differences.

I could quibble about some things -- for example, the statement that "RSS 2.0 cannot contain actual well-formed XML markup, which reduces the re-usability of content." In fact my RSS 2.0 feed did, for a long a while, include an <xhtml:body> tag. That element contained the well-formed XHTML representation of the full content, which was elsewhere excerpted as escaped HTML in the <description> tag. But the fact that I dropped that element from my feed is significant. I did so because, lacking a standard way to interpret this construct, different feedreaders handled it in different ways. Atom solves two related problems here: clean transmission of XHTML, and clean separation of an item's summary from its full content.

What I like most about Atom is its careful delineation of the kinds of content that can be included in a feed, including: plain text, HTML, XHTML, XML, and externally-referenced resources. This dovetails very nicely with what I used to call microcontent, and what's now being called microformats.

None of this is relevant yet to the vast majority of today's bloggers. What matters to them are the core benefits: simple web publishing, simple syndication. Because today's blogging infrastructure delivers those benefits sufficiently well, I don't see a pressing need for most people (or rather, for the blogging tools that most people use) to replace RSS with Atom. But if things evolve in the direction I hope they will -- towards richer payloads when content is syndicated among people ("publishing") and machines ("data exchange") -- then Atom will really start to shine.

To the many folks who labored over this specification: thanks for a job well done!

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