a node at the edge  

September 07, 2002
TechnologyRSS and Disappointment

I am disappointed.

I am disappointed that the work I did yesterday to show that RDF can work well within a simplified RSS environment is for nought because assumptions have already been made, decisions sealed. Jon Udell writes, paraphrasing Sam Ruby, Assuming that the RSS core is now frozen.... Why is there an assumption that the core is frozen? Why is there an assumption that Userland owns RSS 2.0? Because Dave Winer says so? Because a few - a very few-- other people say so?

What of the community, who must continue to be faced with issues of two different RSS specifications; who will have to face the difficulties inherent with this again in the future?

I'm disappointed because assumptions have been made that the efforts of the RSS 1.0 working group and Userland can never merge. The result of this assumption is that those who wish to write or read RSS in the future must bear the burden of both groups lack of cooperation.

I am disappointed because we were starting to see such good questions from the user community -- questions such as those that appeared in the comments attached to my postings. Questions that allow us to define why some of these issues are important to many of us. Questions and comments that serve to make technologists take a good hard look at what we arrogantly decide is 'good' for the community.

Both RSS groups have been working far too long in a vacuum, and this week the lid got popped and fresh air came in. And I have never seen groups, normally so diametrically opposed, work together so well as these two did this week, trying to put that lid back on as quickly as possible.

I am disappointed that the RDF working group didn't join the debate and benefit from such an open discourse with the user community, in addition to taking this opportunity to clarify much of the confusion and complexity about RDF. However, the debate was so short, the working group may not even be aware that it happened.

Posted by Bb at September 07, 2002 09:41 AM

Trackback Count (1)


Perhaps this will cheer you up:

Something to cheer Shelley up

Posted by: Sam Ruby on September 7, 2002 10:45 AM

I believe there's no intent to ignore, there's just no way to focus on questions and issues in a web of disorganized conversation.

We are in dire need of a facilitator!

Posted by: Ken MacLeod on September 7, 2002 10:48 AM

Sam I tried to comment at your weblog but it wouldn't take. I am more disappointed that there wasn't more conversation on this before arbitrary decisions were made.

I have since removed my own personal disappointments as this isn't part of the story.

Ken, how can you facilitate two groups that basically ignore each other? Because of effort this week, I see the potential of at least three different RSSs coming out of this -- Aaron's little text whatever aside -- and how is this going to benefit the future of RSS?

Posted by: Shelley aka Bb on September 7, 2002 11:02 AM

My feel for the 1.0 group is that that side has no intent to ignore, as indicated by Rael's article which was very warmly received by many members of the 1.0 Working Group. I believe there are RDF purists who care not for any URL that doesn't resolve to RDF, but would still be willing to take a spot at the table and work out a resolution.

This predicament is virtually one-sided, and centered around a very small group of people.

Posted by: Ken MacLeod on September 7, 2002 11:13 AM

As an impartial spectator I find all of this a fascinating.

I wonder if Linux, Perl, Java, or even MovableType, would have survived such a design-by-committee approach. At the center of each of those lie one or two visionaries that drive the process. Yes there are many contributors - but there is someone who - having the power - eventually puts there foot down and says - this is it. Benevelent dictators. And I think these technologies are the better for it.

In the RSS debate it's different. There are multiple visionaries and none of them have the complete power to drive it, instead needing to rally the troops as it were to sustain a mass of appeal, in order to drive their vision home. It's a "let the market" decide approach.

Posted by: Karl on September 7, 2002 12:08 PM

Linux may have withered away had Linus been unable to let the community in. Now it, rather than he, push issues on development and support through layers of consensus (fragmented and raucous for sure, but it seems to work). He now tends to step in only when there's a major logjam.

Perl could easily have been pounded out of existence by Python (and a plethora of others) had Larry not stepped out of the way once it began to mature and demand to make a go of it on its own. Perl 6 looks little like what Larry probably would have made it had he gone it alone (which he would've been fully justified in doing), and he seems quite happy about that.

Java... well, let's not go there.

Yes, software visionaries are often instrumental to the creation and acceptance of any "tool", and they can continue to guide and influence their respective communities on what they see as the proper course. However, at the right time a true visionary knows when to make what is theirs, ours.

Posted by: Kafkaesquí on September 7, 2002 02:13 PM

Karl, what Kafkaesqui said.

Posted by: Shelley aka Bb on September 7, 2002 02:15 PM

Of course they would have withered away without their communities :) And if you think I was saying the opposite in my post - you missed the point entirely.

They have a community of users contributing, but *they* determine who in the community runs what. It's not anarchy. This runs contrary to how many think open source projects work. But the most successful have one or a small group of visionaries driving it. Note I'm saying driving it. Not doing the coding. Driving a process - leading a process - is not the same thing as actually doing the grunt work. And the projects I mentioned have excellent leadership. The knack of being able to find competant users in the community to rise to the level of middle management and guide portions of the whole - is a very special skill that few people possess.

Not like RSS - which now has too many leaders to count. This has been an example in design by commitee. Maybe originally that was not the case. But now it is.

I find that real interesting. It may turn out something wonderful.

Posted by: Karl on September 7, 2002 03:35 PM

Karl, this is a case of literally two different groups working without cooperation. A true "committee" would at least be working as one group.

Not the same. Not the same at all.

Posted by: Shelley aka Bb on September 7, 2002 03:41 PM

That's because you think it's two groups talking about the same thing :)

They are not. They're are fundamental differences with different sets of leadership and visions behind them.

The only thing tying these two groups together is a term and a set of overlapping goals.

Posted by: Karl on September 7, 2002 03:52 PM

If RSS 2.0 comes to pass, we will not have 3 versions of RSS; we will have 2. The RSS 2.0 that Dave is proposing will completely supercede all versions of RSS 0.9x. Whether it will supercede RSS 1.0 is a choice that the market will make. And the market is larger than one man or one product. Radio, which used to constitute 95% of the RSS consumption on my site, is now down to about 55%. (And this is by visitors, not individual hits.) Radio also does not have a majority on the production side; look at the top weblogging tools on weblogs.com, or any of the "ecosystem" overviews.

My point is that there is a free market out there. Dave competes in it just like everybody else. Let the market decide!

(You might also want to ask yourself: are you angry about the technical choices made in RSS 2.0, or are you just angry about the name? Hmm, that question feels familiar...)

Posted by: Mark Pilgrim on September 7, 2002 03:55 PM

Are you asking me that question? I'm not angry. I'm watching and learning actually.

In any case.. because there are two versions of RSS... with different leadership and visions behind them - somebody somewhere needs to be brave enough to change the name.

Otherwise it's time to start working on RSS 4.0 :)

Posted by: Karl on September 7, 2002 04:14 PM

Karl, I think Mark's talking to me.

First, I said I was disappointed. This is NOT the same thing as angry. By saying I'm angry, you're reducing my concerns to an emotional format, which lessens my concerns. I don't think this was appropriate Mark.

Yes the market will determine this at some point, but the community will pay the price for this eventually, not the two groups. I personally think this is wasteful and arrogant.

As I said, I'm disappointed that both wouldn't work together.

Posted by: Shelley aka Bb on September 7, 2002 04:33 PM

There's another argument against the "let the market decide", freewheeling capitalist defense that having two groups is not a bad thing.

Question: How much bigger would the overall market for RSS be today if there was a single standard adopted by all? If users didn't have to stumble through a morass of version wars?

No way to tell, of course, but my guess would be "somewhat bigger". And that would not just be good for the touchy-feely idea of the "community", but it would also be better for the heartless bottom-line of the selfish, profit-driven companies involved... (to exaggerate all points of view for effect...)

Competition in some areas is good for all. In other areas, less so. It would not be, for instance, a good thing if there were four different voltage standards for electric power in the U.S. right now...


Posted by: N.Z. Bear on September 7, 2002 04:47 PM

NZ, good comment. Good point.

Posted by: Shelley aka Bb on September 7, 2002 10:43 PM

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