RSS: its strength is also its weakness

Bob Wyman seems to be pretty certain that the dominant syndication format of the forseeable future is Atom:

" is clear that the heyday for the historical RSS format has passed. RSS is a historical format, Atom represents the future. We don't need two formats -- or twenty... We should consolidate on that format which incorporates the most learning and experience with the syndication problem. That format is Atom V1.0."

Now your eyes might roll at this old Atom vs RSS chestnut, and fair enough if they do..but I think this is great debate...not because I necessarily favour and support one over the other (I do - I'm an RSS fan, but only because I use it, am familiar with it and it works - I've not used Atom for any implementations..I'm sure it works too ;-), but because I'm not sure which will end up dominating.

Ultimately this is a meme war, where the meme that catches on fastest and en masse wins.  But RSS's strength - the property of RSS that made it ubiquitous - is also its weakness... The fact is RSS is frozen...this is a good thing and a bad thing as far as RSS fans are concerned.  At risk of over-simplifying:

The good: by freezing the RSS standard, you remove the 'moving target' problem. As David Winer puts it in his post When does it become a standard?'

 "If XML weren't frozen, it wouldn't have been possible to build XML-RPC, RSS, SOAP or OPML on top of it....You could still add features to XML if there was a strong enough will in the community to do so. But there doesn't seem to be any movement in that direction, and that's okay, because while XML is not perfect, it certainly is good enough. Emphatically, that XML is frozen is a good thing. If it were a moving target nothing would get done. And the same is true of RSS.

The bad: by freezing the RSS standard it leaves room for a competing standard.  In Bob Wyman's comments of this post, the following dialogue explains:

"Bob: Atom's minor improvements (the content model and the summary element, for example) can be incorporated into RSS 2.0 with ease. And it can be done without forcing harried publishers to deal with the labyrinthine spec-by-committee that Atom has become.

[Bob Wyman responds:
Changes *cannot* be "incorporated into RSS 2.0." RSS V2.0 has been declared by its author to be "final" and never to be updated. It's author has regularly said there will *never* be an RSS V3.0 or even a 2.1. If RSS had been open to updating, it is likely that the Atom effort never would have been created in the first place. Also, there is much more to Atom than the items that you mentioned. Go read the spec again. Consider, for instance, the atom:source element, the ability to define an Atom entry as a top-level document, support for xml:lang, presentation of a formal schema, and the many other experience-based enhancements over RSS V2.0]"

The whole RSS vs Atom thing has been going on a while (yes Dare it is sooo 2003), and this latest post from Bob Wyman comes from his delight that Microsoft will be supporting Atom as well RSS, accroding to Scoble.  But I think I'll leave the last word with Chris Pirillo from his February 2004 post, 'Atom Vs RSS: Who Cares?'

"Everybody’s up in arms over this “Atom versus RSS” thing. This one’s better than that one. That one’s better than this one. It’s one big pissing match, and all we have at the end of the day is a bunch of guys running around with wet pants."

Comments (2)
  1. RSS 3 specs are published.

    Via Slashdot:

    "The RSS 3 Homepage now offers its first publicly available…

  2. RSS 3 specs are published.

    Via Slashdot:

    "The RSS 3 Homepage now offers its first publicly available…

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