The RSS (Really Simple Syndication) format that was popularized by companies such as Moreover and by technologies such as the blogging tool Movable Type, has come under siege. Most notably so when Google threw its weight behind the Atom format
. Now, thanks to the likes of Dave Winer
and others, we are at another turn in the road.The creation of the Atom format last year by engineers from IBM, Google and others has led to not a little disagreement and discussion in the community.
The news of the day is that Atom and RSS may merge. This is the proposal
from Dave Winer, and one that seems to be gaining some measure of support and a huge amount of press.
But first, a quick introduction to RSS and Atom:
What is RSS
RSS is XML that conforms to the W3C's RDF Specification
. RSS is extensible via XML-namespace and/or RDF based modularization.
An RSS summary, at a minimum, is an XML document describing a "channel" or source of information, consisting of a list of linked items. Each item in the list contains a title, a link, and a brief description of the item. While items have traditionally been news headlines, RSS is not limited to this and has been used for many different purposes, recently even by Amazon to describe their products
What it Atom
Atom is described as a "universal personal content publishing standard created by leading service providers, tool vendors and independent developers".
Like RSS, Atom is an XML-based document format intended to allow lists of information, known as "feeds", to be synchronised between publishers and consumers.
Feeds are composed of a number of items, known as "entries", each with an extensible set of metadata, such as title, link, author, description, etc.
RSS vs. Atom, What's the Big Deal?
RSS and Atom are both tools designed to do the same basic job: advertise and distribute website content by creating XML newsfeeds that are easily consumed by computers.
So what's the fuss about? Is it that "pubDate" is better or worse than "issued" to describe the publication date of the item? Is it that one really does the job better than then other?
Sam Ruby, an IBM software engineer, has a thought to share on this. Sam is one of the primary forces behind Atom. And it is he and other critics who have called to question "Winer's de facto control over RSS".
According to Winer, "The truth is that neither is better or worse. If it works it's good." And he apparently believes they both work, but more importantly he believes there should be one standard.
Winer and others would prefer that people work together to build on a single standard, rather than spend their time arguing over the minutiae of metadata field names.
Winer proposed the merged format should differ from RSS 2.0 as little as possible and suggested the merger be managed by an IETF working group that would be open to anyone who wants to participate.
According to Ruby, "As long as it's under the IETF, it's fine,". Other vendors are moving to support both approaches.
Building the concensus will take time and developing the new standard even longer. However, it is good to see the energy focused on progress and the discussion shift from "pubDate" to RSS/Atom vs. Atom/RSS.
Read about RSS .92
or RSS 2.0
. Read about Atom