February 18, 2004
Some RSS & Atom Observations
First, I'd really like to thank the many people who took the time to post both the original comments and a lot more over the past few days. My intent in posting was to summarize and help inform fellow blawgers as to the issues relating to RSS and/or Atom news feeds -- and why this is important.
From all this, I have the following impressions, observations, and suggestions on the subject, which of course are purely subjective on my part:
1) RSS has been and is working well for bloggers, especially if your blog only has one author per post (i.e., the "Simple" in Really Simple Syndication). However, from the examples given, it appears to me that RSS may not be as smooth a fit in some collaborative authoring and commercial settings due to the need for more advanced features.
2) RSS is perhaps best described as a "de facto" standard by virtue of its wide adoption and use.
3) Freezing the RSS core has probably helped its adoption as a de facto standard, as it's easier to hit a stationary target. It also has contributed to much concern about moving forward with it.
4) It sounds like RSS features can be added in extensions, at least to some extent, although this is one of the hottest areas in debate.
5) Atom development sounds like its trying to be more things to more people, compared to my observation #1 above re: RSS. However, its rapid change and perceived increased complexity are also hurting its mind share. In this regard, it has the opposite problems of RSS as mentioned in observation #3.
6) Atom is aggressively attempting to be RSS with the extra bells and whistles, or at least the next evolution. In other words, its developers seem to want it to be the "One Ring", for better or worse, to supplant RSS. Having just one standard is preferable from my perspective, but right now it's very difficult to say which one that should be.
7) Given the rate of Atom support among many popular news aggregators, it's definitely something to keep an eye on.
8) Not having an RSS feed today means one is missing out on some very substantial opportunities to extend a site's traffic and/or reach.
9) At present, I'm still foggy on the tangible benefits gained from including an Atom feed on a typical blog that already has one or more RSS feeds (i.e., "typical blog" defined for this purpose as one maintained by a single author, although I realize this is debatable in of itself). Other than appearing more technically savvy and "with it", I'm not seeing how adding an Atom feed by itself will translate to more traffic or reach. Eventually, it may translate to providing a better "reader experience" by offering more choices to one's visitors, but that remains to be seen. On a larger or more collaborative blog or web site, it appears that Atom brings some additional features to the table worth exploring.
10) RSS and Atom developers/supporters need to focus on overcoming their current challenges and not the personalities and personal attacks. Neither format is perfect, and neither bloggers nor their readers want to be caught in the middle of another standards jihad, akin to the Betamax/VHS and DVD -/+ format wars. I'll generally agree that competition is a good thing, but splintering of standards is not.
I'm not opposed to the Atom format development. However, I really need to see the significant benefits it would add today in exchange for my investment of time and effort. In other words, what's the ROI for the average blogger or web site operator? This is where Atom developers need to spend considerable time to get the word out in plain English and gain the necessary mind share. Many bloggers, while ahead of the curve, are not going to understand what a namespace is. Put it in terms and context of how it will affect them where they live, and get this out into the mainstream media channels.
Again, I very much appreciate everyone's participation on the subject, and additional comments are welcomed. RSS technology has made it far easier to both obtain and control our daily information overload. In this regard, it's a useful but double-edged sword, and it remains to be seen which path it should cut.