Tim Bray: RSS 'Twice as Good' as Atom

Tim Bray, one of the creators of both XML and Atom, has some fun at the expense of the RSS Advisory Board:

Yep, ladies and gentlemen, it looks like there's trouble on the horizon. On the RFC4287 syndication-format front, it may have been stable since 2005 and widely deployed, but watch out, there's a new version of RSS 2.0! (2.0.9, to be precise). RSS 2.0 is sort of RFC4287's main competition, and if there are two different specs, I guess that must mean it's twice as good.

RSS 2.0 is clearly Atom's main competition, and for the moment it's winning by a large margin. According to the latest stats on Syndic8, 80.6 percent of the 510,000 feeds in its database are RSS feeds and 82.1 percent of those are in RSS 2.0 format. Atom totals 16.6 percent.

Atom isn't gaining market share in Syndic8, either. As of February 2006, 77.8 percent of its 455,000 feeds were RSS, 18.1 percent were Atom, and 68.2 percent of the RSS feeds were in RSS 2.0 format.

I'm not pointing this out to cheerlead RSS -- I like Atom and would have no problem if these numbers were reversed in three years. But Atom's nowhere close to knocking off the competition and there are umpteen thousand RSS 2.0 feeds, so somebody should be working on RSS interop.


Not wanting to appear to ignorant Spud wasn't gonna mention it but wot the fuck is RSS?

Y'all seem to chat about it at length here.

There are folk out here in wild wild web who are blissfully ignorant.

Can it be described in a sentence shorter than that one explaining wot Hella-burden does?

If not then nevermind.

Please excuse this unfergiveable display of ignorance from a great but nonetheless unwashed potato.

Spud keeps meaning to look it up on wiki or sommat but it just seems really mind numbingly boring on the face of it.

No offense.

Be Well.

Have a seat, Spuddy, and I'll tell you a story. It all started with a thing called XML, which is a language, kind of how English and French are languages. When you buy a major home appliance, the user guide that comes with it often contains instructions in several languages. You might have noticed that the French text is always a bit longer than the English equivalent, just because the French are like that. Well, XML's distinguishing characteristic is that it is even more verbose than French; translating your refrigerator's user guide into XML would consume over 82% of the world's timber resources.

Now even if you have a language, people choose to speak it in different ways. For example, what the Australians call "vegemite," the British call "marmite," and the Americans call "disgusting pile of crap." Old Noah Webster worked hard to take down the ways Americans speak and write English, and that's how we know to write "authorize" with a "z" but "advertise" with an "s." Rogers is doing much the same thing, except instead of American English it's something called RSS 2.0.

This would seem to be all well and good, except that as is often the case when you're dealing with computers, there are some near-autistic individuals hanging around who enjoy using phrases like "Turing-complete" and think that instead of language being about words, it's really about math. Now you and I can use different words to mean the same thing, or a single word to mean different things and still live together in happiness, but when it comes to math there's really only one right answer. So you can see how these people who think language is math get upset and claim there's only one right way to say something and generally creep everyone else out.

Oh, and I almost forgot the other bit -- a large part of this is arguing over who gets credit. Now we Americans don't speak American because back when we signed the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812, we agreed to call our language English in exchange for England not sending Marines over on ships to come and burn down the White House again. So the English get the credit, even if only a tiny minority of those who speak the language live in England. Now that credit only goes so far; although we call it English, if some Englishman insists that I spell the word "authorize" with an "s," it's well-settled law that I have every right to beat him with my cane. But when it comes to XML and RSS and all the rest, these principles aren't yet firmly established, and people are still grabbing for credit and want to tell others how to do things.

So, my little potato, the result is that while Rogers is playing Noah Webster, some people are offering mathematical proofs that the words he's writing down are wrong while others are threatening to send the Marines to burn his house down, all of which understandably makes him upset. As for why he persists in the face of this, it's probably because he's insane or has some weird sexual fetish about it (or both, as was the case with Webster).

Mrs Silence Do-Good,

First off, sorry fer the lateness of me reply.
Spud is absolutely retarted about getting back to people fer some reason.

Secondly, thanx bunches fer yer fun, informative and even more importantly "grokable" explanation of wots going on with RSS 2.0.

Spud is luff a good analogy!

English is, indeed, a more concise, less verbose language than French or any other language on earth. It's the most evolved, the most evolving. The differences between American English and UK style English, Spud is quite aware of, being a Canuckistani who's Canadian English is sometimes Old School UK ie Honour, Colour, etc but is mostly influenced by American English. Gas not Petrol. Tire not Tyre etc. By the way, the Canadian term fer Vegemite/ Marmite is also "disgusting pile of crap", not too coincidently. Marmalade, btw, just looks like Jelly made by a really lazy person. Ah, but Spud is digress yet again.

So to re-cap, RSS the descendant of XML is a computer language/ mathematical expression that the mighty blog-god is attempting to make more consistent and redefine into RSS 2.0 along with a group of other like minded folk and in the process he's butting heads with a nation of Rainmen screaming sommat about Judge Wapner and sayin "definitely" a lot.

Such Drama! thinks Spud. Who'da thunkit?

Spud also appreciates that you've also answered Spud's unasked question as to why anyone would wanna subject themselves to such rigours.

"As for why he persists in the face of this, it's probably because he's insane or has some weird sexual fetish about it (or both, as was the case with Webster)."

Ha! Is funny stuff.

Ever watch Black Adder, the English Teevee series?

There's this great episode where the first English dictionary is being compiled by Dr Samuel Johnson, played impeccably by Robbie Coltrane. He's portrayed as a man grimly obsessed with his task to near comic perfection. Episode is called "Ink and Incapability".

Spud computer language lore is shockingly absent most days but Spud is not wholly incurious on the topic. Indeed, Spud is getting "curiouser and curiouser" to borrow a phrase. But, in the main, Spud is mostly a big fan of the English language. Almost fanatical, in fact.

William S Burroughs wrote and Laurie Anderson quotes...

"language is a virus from Outer Space.

And hearing your name is better than seeing your face."

Spud is thank Mrs S again fer the heads up.

Spud luffs learnin' stuff.

Be Well.



The above was the tater o' doom, darth tater, the Killah Potato


Be Well.

PS: Laurie Anderson is the Poet Laureate of the United States of America.

Ok, the figures show a slight lean towards RSS 2.0, not a mad rush to Atom. Although I'm not sure how significant these figures can be considered (one source, relatively small datasets), I doubt we'll see a big quantitive shift to Atom in the near future.

What I had in mind when I said "I suspect the real story here is that while RSS 2.0 won the first syndication battle, it's now losing the war." was not an overnight trashing of RSS 2.0 but a gradual, deep shift. The growth of RSS was initiated by early adopters doing cool stuff, it took a long time for it to reach the mainstream. The really low hanging fruit has already been covered by RSS, but there's still a lot of fresh stuff available with Atom, especially if you bring in the protocol.

On other angle. RSS is a mode of publication (the polling bit, aggregators) and a format. If you stand back a little it could be seen as a competitor to traditional web publishing (mostly plain HTTP GET on HTML pages). Yet I imagine the number of HTML pages is still greater than RSS feeds.

Ok, the change from simple RSS to Atom is no where near as large as HTML to RSS, much nearer to that of HTML 3.2 to HTML 4/XHTML. But I'd say it's big enough to make significant impact over the next few years. (The addition of a decent protocol may well be very big).

re. "somebody should be working on RSS interop" - I'm not so sure any more. I suspect a better approach than encouraging improvement of RSS might be to just to accept it as it is in the wild, and look for good heuristics for making it useful (not unlike the HTML5 approach). I'm not optimistic there's any way of getting beyond what is effectively scraping with RSS as commmonly published.

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