a node at the edge  

September 24, 2002
TechnologyConsumer Rights and RSS

Yesterday was a disappointing technology day. I had hoped to use the position of devil's advocate at the RSS-Dev group to see if we couldn't get a firmer definition of what the group sees as its future direction, strategy, as well as specific reasons for use of RDF. I continue to see confusion reign as to a) what the group sees as its purpose, and b) what the group sees as its direction.

Last week, I found I was having a hard time justifying the use of RDF for throwaway syndication feeds. I've always felt that if you can't easily justify something, or provide a solid argument in support, either you don't understand the need, or there isn't a need -- one or the other. At this point, I couldn't continue to support RDF for throwaways.

Phil found out in the last two weeks of very hard effort that sometimes RDF just doesn't work for a specific application. Doesn't mean RDF is 'bad' -- I use it for 3 applications at my web sites and it's wonderful stuff. But RDF isn't a replacement for XML. Sometimes XML works better. Sometimes plain text works better. If we start developing an attitude of "It's on the web, so let's put it into RDF", we're guilty of using the right technology for the wrong task, which doesn't benefit anyone.

Now, I can support RDF for a different type of business, such as persistently documenting each weblog or news item posting, using something that is Dublin Core like, but geared more towards the document sub-unit business. This then could be used for traditional syndication/aggregation, but would primarily be used to literally document our content -- for searches, for identification, for whatever. And I tried to get the RSS-Dev group to bite off on this as a possible direction, but in the end I was left with "we're syndication/aggregation", or in another case, "we're RSS and the purpose of this group isn't justification but tools development".

Making a long story short: though I respect many of the individuals involved with RSS 1.0, their effort and hard work and intelligence and capability as well as energy, I can't continue to support RSS 1.0 or RSS-Dev. Not with this current level of confusion about what the group sees as its purpose.

Unfortunately, not supporting RSS 1.0 is seen as giving victory to Dave Winer at Userland, by forcing us into choosing an RSS 0.9x/RSS 2.0 path. However, I still don't approve of Dave's approach to implementing RSS and his unwillingness to give up ownership of it. I can respect Dave's contribution, and his hard work and effort, and his intelligence and capability, but I can't support a supposedly 'open' spec that's controlled by one company.

Ultimately, supporting either specification means, to me, continuing to support this competition between the groups, competition which threatens to Never...Go...Away, as can be seen in the comments to Phil's posting.

Sometimes, when I read these types of comments, I feel as if you and I don't matter at all; that you and I are nothing more than scraps of meat being fought over by two junk yard dogs. Well, this just peeves me. So, I'm taking the route that's been available to consumers since the beginning of time: I'm not buying.

I'm not buying into RSS 0.9x. I'm not buying into RSS 2.0. I'm not buying into RSS 1.0.

I changed my RSS 0.91 and RSS 1.0 templates to read the following:

    RSS not supported here

    This weblog does not support RSS 0.9x, RSS 2.0, or RSS 1.0. If you wish to view entries, may I suggest that you visit the weblog, and save your fast skimming for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

My weblog. My web sites. My choice.

Posted by Bb at September 24, 2002 11:50 AM

Trackback Count (2)


Hey Shelley, we never claimed ownership. Read the disclaimer at the bottom of the 2.0 spec.

"Further, while these copyright restrictions apply to the written RSS specification, no claim of ownership is made by UserLand to the format it describes. Any party may, for commercial or non-commercial purposes, implement this format without royalty or license fee to UserLand. The limited permissions granted herein are perpetual and will not be revoked by UserLand or its successors or assigns."

Posted by: Dave Winer on September 24, 2002 12:28 PM

Shelley: I know how you feel. I've appreciated your comments on the RSS-DEV list recent as they have clarified a lot of my confusion and given me a new perspective.

Dave: Lets make this (Userland does not own or control the RSS 2.0 format) abundantly clear by putting it in the hands of some independent group. I AM NOT suggesting that group be the RSS-DEV either.

Posted by: Timothy Appnel on September 24, 2002 01:15 PM

I'm interested in hearing more about what you have in mind Timothy, but not here. Send me a private email if you like.

Posted by: Dave Winer on September 24, 2002 02:20 PM

Shelley, your comments on RSS's and RDF's different goals are the best clarification of the issues I have seen.
I will miss your RSS feed though - I use it to know when to read your latest thoughts. I'll try to remember to check your site every couple of days, but having a reminder in my aggregator appmade it much easier.

RSS's innate transience and RDF's implicit persistence make the tension immanant.

Posted by: Kevin on September 24, 2002 03:06 PM

Please, Shelley, for the sake of your visitors, support RSS 1.0, the one that doesn't suck.

/a subscriber

Posted by: tomas on September 24, 2002 03:25 PM

Dave: Who are you trying to fool?

Posted by: tomas on September 24, 2002 03:26 PM

I have the solution to all your problems:


Posted by: on September 24, 2002 10:44 PM

Me too, http://www.aquarionics.com/nodes/view.php?name=esf :-)

Posted by: Aquarion on September 25, 2002 03:50 AM

Brilliant move, Shelley ... hope it works out for you. The fight over RSS is hard to stomach .. just like any discordant divergance. We as consumers feel the pain. On the other hand, me thinks in the final analysis, it is unavoidable: rapid innovation and rigid standards being antithetical. I think in the end tools which can adapt to this frekus will be the winners and the ones that you and I will choose to use. Thanks for providing me with this forum in which to come and run my mouth.

Posted by: Seth Russell on September 25, 2002 01:29 PM

dave: unfortunately just stating in the license that you don't control it or own is not good enough if you do ACT like you do - ie, deciding when it's finished, what goes into it, what doesn't. That seems like ownership and control to me, doesn't it to you?


Posted by: robert on September 27, 2002 11:19 AM

I have yet to see a DTD or XML Schema for RSS2.0. Until then, I can't take it seriously. I thought UserLand employed people with technical knowledge....

Posted by: Tony Collen on September 28, 2002 11:00 PM

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