RSS politics

Mr. Safe is back on the scene. Most of what he and I discussed nearly a thousand days ago holds up pretty well today. However, I'd like to apologize for calling Dave Winer a control freak. RSS politics being what it is and always has been, there was no other choice but to declare the format frozen.

Over time, problems will arise. One example -- a potential ambiguity about the number of enclosures in an item -- has been recently noted by Rogers Cadenhead, the current chair of the RSS advisory board. This is the kind of thing that the board, of which I was an original member, might be able to help with. Its charter, as I understood it, was to offer guidance and to document best practices for using RSS.

I produced little such guidance during my tenure on the board, but if the current members have the will to do so, their efforts will be appreciated by many RSS users and developers. My sense is that a number of issues can be addressed in this way, without amending the specification itself.

Other issues, though, would require altering the spec. Yesterday I discovered one I hadn't seen before. I took one of the feed URLs that I liberated from iTunes and ran it through the RSS validator. It fails for several reasons, but here's the interesting one: in Apple's enclosure tags, track URLs begin with https, not http.

There's no wiggle room here. The spec clearly says url must be an http url. If Apple or others need to ship enclosures over an encrypted link, they're going to have to produce invalid feeds.

In the short run, these kinds of issues don't significantly compromise the mission of RSS. In the long run, they will add up and become harder to ignore, but then there is an alternative: Atom.

I had hoped that RSS itself could move forward, but Dave was right and I was wrong. It cannot and should not. It is what it is, it delivers great value, and it will continue to do so for millions of people for years to come. In theory it could evolve at the core, as well as by way of the modular extensions that Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and others are creating. But in practice that's politically impossible. So use RSS for all its excellent strengths, but don't expect it to solve every problem. If you have a problem RSS can't solve -- and for what it's worth, I currently don't -- then look to Atom.

PS: Just when you think RSS politics can't get any stranger, it does. When I looked up the RSS roadmap just now, the first Google result for rss roadmap scripting news was this link, courtesy of an open redirect at Coast Restaurant Supply in San Diego.

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