Echoes on the web

Hmm. I am comparably new to the weblogging phenomenon although I have been busy doing webloggish things for many years now. The discovery of the basics of the Semantic Web, the power of of syndication formats and personal publishing combined and the ever-growing trend toward intelligent clients using web services via http using well-defined protocols made sense to me.

Development of RSS has been bumpy: after Netscape has started with version 0.9 (already based on the idea of RDF) but later stopped to pursue their plans. RSS 0.91 is a rewrite of the format but no longer based on RDF. It is pretty rudimental and well-supported. Dave Winer lead the development of more incremental versions (0.92, 0.93).

Then the fighting began. Some bright heads took up on the original idea of designing news channel around RDF and developed RSS 1.0. I considered (and still consider) this being a very smart move. Dave Winer got angry and put out RSS 2.0 which was based on the 0.9x stuff and had nothing to do with the 1.0 idea of re-integrating RSS in RDF.

So here we are now: it is a mess. To confront the mess, the RSS people are somehow gathering around a new effort to create something new called “Echo”. It should clear up the clouds, make everybody happy and create a garden of happy bloggers where food flies through the air.

Well, I don‘t buy it. Echo is more a successor to RSS 2.0 than RSS 1.0 and therefore it is not based on RDF. I still think, RDF is the right path to follow as it makes integration with all the other RDF stuff so easy. There is a post by Dan Brickley on the www-rdf-interest mailing list that I do agree with.

Ben of Six Apart (who is producing Movable Type) is talking about his motives to support Echo. Maybe I am a bit naive, but I don‘t see big problems here. Let‘s recapture what his points are:

  1. The RSS spec does not say how to encode content. Well, using RDF this is just a matter of de-facto standardization. I think any kind of public agreement on RSS in RDF could do that. Then take XHTML and you are done.
  2. XML-RPC is severely lacking in internationalization (I18N) support . Yes, it doesn‘t. But what does this have to do with RSS? Take SOAP and the problem is solved.
  3. Content is represented differently in an API than it is in a syndicated feed . Could be solved by moving to SOAP as well.
  4. Confusion over elements. Well, of couse. There is a lot of confusion. But clarifying meaning does not necessarily mean to have to design a completely new format. RSS/RDF 1.1 could be enough in my eyes to clarify and probably add new elements to represent new and old meaning.
  5. No universally-supported and -defined extensions. Again, this could be the topic of and additional document focussing on the meaning or call it RSS 1.1.

However, there seems to be strong support for the Echo Project and I am curious how the Wiki-based development process will turn out in the end.

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