RSS, two and a half years later
Two and a half years ago I wrote an article (has it been that long, time really flies) about the state and future of RSS. I thought it would be nice to revisit this article and delibrate on the next steps.
The first problem I brought up was the fact that it is a poll system, as opposed to an event-based system. I asserted that if RSS wants to be successful, it has to be converted into a push method. Well, I was quite wrong :-) It turned out to be so successful that there are now companies and services that only publish RSS feeds from other feeds (Feedburner, Yahoo! Pipes).
Something which developed very quickly during the end of 2004 was a thing called podcasting. Audio and video files are enclosed in the RSS feed and can be automatically downloaded by a newsreader or “podcatcher”. Many podcasts exist, most are of questionable quality, but some stand out, just like with written weblogs.
The idea of podcasting caught quite a bit of attention and the relatively simple technology behind it created a slew of more or less successful ideas. Apple thought of photocasting where the iPhoto application creates RSS feeds with an item for each photo that is to be published. Other users of iPhoto can then subscribe to the feed and get automatic updates of others’ photos. It didn’t really catch on, although Flickr is now offering RSS feeds with photos enclosed which can be used with iPhoto (or any other feed reader, for that matter).
In Free Software development circles, a Python script called Planet became popular to aggregate the weblogs of the many developers working on a project. The Hackergotchi, a small picture with or without fancy drop shadow to identify authors of the different posts was born.
The simple way in which RSS feeds can be parsed and extended, thanks to XML, generates new applications every day. RSS no longer is solely a way of delivering blog content to the end user, it isn’t even bound to things happening over time anymore. It has become a standardized way to exchange content of any kind.
It is an important step in the becoming of the semantic web, where every piece of information is put into context and accessible from anywhere using any device. It was a driving force in the success of the Web 2.0 bubble which didn’t burst like the first.
Advertising companies understood the possibilities of RSS and started offering advertisements for inclusion in feeds, either in the form of a banner in the footer of posts, or as advertorials in separate feed items.
Recently, a discussion about the copyrights of feeds came up when some people discovered that their feeds were aggregated by a commercial site which put advertisements in their posts (thereby possibly exercising their fair-use rights). They responded by relicensing the feed under a non-commercial Creative Commons license. They have no problem with people earning money with what they write, they do have a problem with people earning money with their writings without sharing or even telling.
So, what do you think, will the article I will write two and a half years from now still be about RSS? Or will we arrive at a better technology? What will be the challenges for the next years? Will this technology or its successor ever become so user friendly your mother would use it?
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Update: I found this little video trying to explain RSS in plain English. I think this still is way too technical, but it’s a start.
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