October 27, 2005

Ben Hammersley: The Hegelian dialectic of syndication formats

Ben Hammersley doesn't have much time for The Hegelian dialectic of syndication formats

I do. Or rather, let's get one thing straight. Here on PW we like the fite. It's not called "wars" for nothing. This ain't just a generic "cool new stuff in the blogosphere" blog. It's all about competition, rivalry, network externalities, exclusion and zero-sum games ... The more vicious, bitter and personal, the better. ;-)

There can be millions of standards in the world, but attention is a scarce resource, and we can't pay attention to, and develop for, all platforms at the same time. So some will win, and some will be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Also, I'm not ashamed of being partisan. Although I reserve the right to swtich sides whenever I like.

Case in point. It's kind of blatantly obvious to me that RSS 2.0 has currently won the syndication war. Ordinary syndication feeds between blogs and news sites and aggregators, are going to be RS 2.0 (although not for this blog, of course, because it's on Blogspot, which is run by Google, who've taken their own partisan position. This is fun in itself.)

OTOH, as as is made clear Atom does a lot more than simple syndication. It's possible that one of these other uses might take off in a big way, and that will have some effect. For example, if developers are having to include the standard Atom library in their code for other reasons, then it might be easier for them to produce an Atom feed than think about RSS.

So if Atom wins, it will because Atom syndication will have been aggressively bundled with other Atom functionality.

One thing that's interesting. This insistence that RSS 2.0 is fixed. It guarantees stability, but may, in the long term hurt it. Obviously we need fixed layers to build on (think internet protocol or http) But these are often not backed up by a rhetoric of "fixedness". If anything, the RFC convention generally caries an assumption that stuff can be revised eventually.

How important is a strong explicit rhetoric of fixedness in attracting or repelling developers?

Finally, I'm a critical rationalist, so obviously I think dialectics is bunk. But if we take it seriously for a moment, Hammersley is applying it wrong. The triad has to occur in time, and RSS 1.0 precedes RSS 2.0. The real triad would be something like RSS 0.9X (thesis - easy but no namespaces), RSS 1.0 (antithesis - generic, formally correct, but complex), RSS 2.0 (synthesis - a bit more extensibility with namespaces, not much more complex). Atom is the antithesis to RSS 2.0 as the thesis of a new triad. We wait to see what the synthesis will be.
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