It’s just data

The biggest problem with RSS

It has been pleasing to see the weekend discussion on RSS.  An author of an RSS aggregator has indicated that the "main value adds I get out of RSS are not the core RSS 2.0 specs but modules added by various third parties like xhtml:body, dc:date, wfw:comment and slash:comment."  An author of a popular weblogging tool has indicated other things he would like added to RSS in support for weblogs.

IMHO, the biggest problem with RSS isn't that there are two ways to indicate who the author of an item is.  The biggest problem I see is that there isn't a single place to find out about both alternatives.


AMEN! When Sam Ruby agrees with me, I know I can't be too far astray! :-)

Posted by Christian Romney at

Sam,
You should update the link to RSS Bandit to http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/en-us/dnexxml/html/xml02172003.asp . You linked to last month's column instead.

Posted by Dare Obasanjo at

Dare - I'm curious...in one of your posts this weekend, you labeled yourself as not being "a professional developer". ???

Posted by Christian Romney at

OK now that my initial euphoria is over...Sam, how would you propose "fixing" RSS's biggest problem?

Posted by Christian Romney at

Regarding your comment, "the biggest problem with RSS isn't that there are two ways to indicate who the author of an item is."  There are two sides to this question:

Side 1. As the producer of an RSS feed, how should you encode the author, the date, the title, etc. of an item when there are a variety of modules you could use.  This depends on what you want to accomplish in your website in terms of tools you want to support for the query and manipulation of your metadata (XQuery, XSLT, etc).  You decide. 

Side 2. The consumers of an RSS feed need to be able to determine which element of which module really expresses the author, date, title, etc of an item -- for display to readers, and eventually in support of semantic searches.  A tie-breaker rule is needed.  There could be some prioritization of modules mandated by a central standards body, but that would be a nightmare for everyone.  A simpler solution is to rely on the order in which modules namespaces are declared in the feed - a simple rule  that could be easily standardized - first or last. (This would be within existing namespace scoping rules, of course.)

Posted by Rich Demers at

OOPS, I read your comment backwards. Deciding which module to use is NOT what you consider the biggest question. But I still feel that it is a question that needs to be addressed.

Posted by Rich Demers at

Rich, it is the question that needs to be addressed.  At the moment, what predominantly exists are advocacy sites that tell half the story.

The RSS validator has so far been fairly successful at being neutral. If the feed is valid according to any specification, it will be flagged as valid.  That will not change.

What will change is that there will be more warning and informational messages added, and this time clearly marked as such.  These will attempt to encourage best practices and describe alternatives.

Christian - this is how I intend to help filling this void.  You, of course, are welcome to help either in this effort or  in any other way you feel you can help.

Posted by Sam Ruby at

Sam,
You do a great service to the RSS community by hosting this blog and contributing greatly to both it and the RSS Validator. So do many others, too numerous to mention here. As for me, I can offer my insights as a consumer/producer of RSS feeds. Consider me one of the many developers out there who will be charged (or have charged themselves) with creating RSS feeds not only for blogs, but for the dissemination of valuable information. Currently, I am working on producing a feed for Delta Vacations' Deals. While this isn't a weblog per se, I think it adds value to people who prefer to use aggregators for information retrieval. When and if this kind of passive/non-intrusive syndication catches on en masse in the marketplace, I think we will all benefit. I envision using my aggregator (or some other RSS-enabled tool not yet invented) to find out about everything from what Deli meats are on sale at [insert your local supermarket chain here] to finding houses for sale on Buy Owner. All without the downside (read: spam) of email! The role I see myself playing, with the rest of the community's indulgence, is of advocate for the rank-and-file developer. Of course, I am not the only one. My biggest concern is in removing entry barriers for developers. This involves having a single place to learn about the technology and its many extensions/modules. I have tried to address that, but alas my blog (or anyone else's) is not the proper place for this sort of information, nor did I do a spectacular job in producing it.  As it stands today, there is so much fragmentation that it requires some serious effort to track down RSS-related specifications, while some developments are not formally specified at all. This may be fine for the time being, but in the long run it hampers the rapid adoption of RSS technology by those who are currently not in-the-know. Other than that, I would be happy to participate/assist/comment/support in any other item/process the RSS community comes up with. :-)

Posted by Christian Romney at

Christian,
  I'm not a professional developer because I don't get paid to program and never have. I am currently a program manager at Microsoft and before that I was a tester.

Posted by Dare Obasanjo at

Thanks, Christian.  Well put.  I have to be honest here, I don't know the first thing about RDF extensions or trackbacks, but I just began my exporations a few weeks ago.  The only two sources I have had to refer to during my implementations weer Dave Winer's RSS spec (http://backend.userland.com/rss) and Don Box's Spoutlet (http://www.gotdotnet.com/team/dbox/default.aspx) and anything he's linked to.

Truthfully, I can find nothing more of interest that doesn't fall into the category of "Fuzzy Dice" (my first boss, David Carrol, introduced me to that phrase as a way of telling me that my feature ideas for his product were interesting and neat, but they didn't provide an useful function) anywhere else.

I believe that this comment strengthens Sam's comments above.  I don't know about the modules and extensions because I only get my information from a single place, but not the single place (is plain text emphasis passe', yet?).

Posted by Michael Earls at

RSS vs. Atom, the personal publishing "support act"

As a technology for the visualisation of the odd bit of site content, RSS is great. You read the XML file from a URL, and display the results on the screen in an aggregator. Most aggregators have some additional archiving and conflict resolution...

Excerpt from Richard BF at

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