Well, since everyone is talking about RSS all of a sudden, Mozilla’s FireFox has builtin RSS support. The new Safari of Mac OS X “Tiger” will support RSS. And at the same time, there is news coming from the content providers stating that the whole RSS thing is cutting in their bandwidth, leaving less for the non-aggregated, probably more profitable, content.
There are some major problems currently with RSS, first of all and also the most important factor, is that it is a poll system. It means the user has to poll the content provider for new information. Well, that is not so much different from going to the website every now and then, but the problem is that RSS feeds are downloaded very often, also on moments the user would not be watching the site anyway. Also, you miss the exposure of your advertisements, so no income.
For RSS to be a big commercial success like HTTP is right now, it needs to be converted into a push system, in which the content provider notifies the subscribers of changes; very much like E-Mail is nowadays. The problem with E-Mail however is that you get a lot of spam, and the last thing we want is getting spammed in our new and improved message system.
A very nice idea may be to integrate RSS with some kind of new and shiny internet message system. Luckily, the IETF has a protocol for such a system. This protocol is called Jabber. Currently mainly in use as a layer for instant messaging, but it is very powerful and, very importand, all messages are identified and authenticated. This is a major difference with E-Mail, in which anyone can send an E-Mail to anyone using a third person’s address. This is in fact what most spammers and E-Mail viruses do.
So, if RSS is pushed, then we can subscribe to some service who will be posting certain messages when they come available. This is also a drawback of current systems: News isn’t really news, it is news with a small delay, and therefore unsuitable for real-time information like stock quotes, a burglar alarm for your house, parcel tracing, etc. It is nice to get this information at all, but it would be even nicer if you get the information right on time.
Good, so now we have a pushed RSS feed from an authenticated party. A spammer can spam me only through a feed on which I am subscribed (of course you could set this differently if you like), but if he does, I simply stop the subscription and nothing is getting through from that spammer anymore. It is like subscribing to a mailing list, but much simpler of course. We want this to be as simple to use as possible.
This is the first part of an article series about RSS. I’ll come up with some more points that need consideration probably within a few days. I hope it will also be a bit more vivid.