Web feeds are like RSS, only different

There recently has been some commotion over the fact that Microsoft is introducing RSS support in the new Internet Explorer 7 (which is great), but they call them “web feeds”. Oh! My! God! They are so evil!

Actually, Microsoft has a point. Currently RSS is being used as a format to deliver all kinds of different stuff: blog posts, podcasts, images, videos, search results, weather reports, stock quotes, … While they all use RSS as underlying format, they are not all the same ‘kind’ of information. I think it makes sense to distinguish between the technology/standard format “RSS” and the usages it enjoys.

So you could have:

  • Web feeds: feeds from blogs or other web sites
  • Podcast or Audiofeeds: been around for over a year now, started out as RSS 2.0 + MP3 enclosures, but now also implies Apple iTunes and Yahoo Media extensions.
  • Photofeeds: a bit like the podcasting for images, supported by the likes of Flickr, Smugmug and Pixagogo
  • Videofeeds for ‘vlogs’: the logical successor of podcasts, but here the main issue will be: formats! Whereas MP3 works on almost every machine, there is no such universal format for video. MPG (MPEG-2)? WMV (Windows Media)? MOV (QuickTime)?
  • Search feeds: the result of a search operation as a RSS feed, from MSN, Technorati, Feedster or Blogdigger
  • Stock feeds: would contain Index, Change, Day’s Range and Year’s Range in specific extensions
  • Weather feeds: would contain expected temperature, humidity, precipitation so your domotica system can open windows or light the heater

In this logic the term ‘feed’ would be synonymous for ‘based upon RSS’, and this means: a ‘channel’ with one or more ‘items’, each one with at least a date, a unique ID and a title. (RSS is the cornerstone of the ‘reverse chronological’ movement)

Some of the arguments against

“Everyone calls it RSS”

I give you: Firefox’s Live Bookmarks

“But RSS has this whole ‘brand’ recognition thing going for it!”

Not really. Maybe for us web geeks, but not for Mr/Mrs Average Webuser. It is true that people like Dave Winer and Steve Gillmor have invested a lot of effort in evangilizing the usage of RSS, and that’s very good. It’s not because Microsoft picks a more sexy name that the standard will vanish, on the contrary.

“RSS is not per-se a difficult/unsexy name”

Of course people can remember acronyms, but only if they can visualize what they stand for:

  • a DVD is like a CD: same size, slightly different colour. They contain movies.
  • VHS cassettes are black and chunky. They contained movies in the previous century.
  • A GSM is like a phone with no wires (unless you’re charging it).
  • An SUV is a really big car to go shopping with

But try to explain a non-technical person the differences between HTML and HTTP, CSS and PHP?

“Everyone uses the or button on their site to indicate their feed.”

Glad you mentioned that. Why exactly would an orange [XML] button mean RSS? Isn’t Atom also XML? Isn’t KML, SOAP, … also XML? I would love to see the [XML] buttons disappear. Indicate what is important: a videofeed, OK, but is it QuickTime, DivX or Windows Media?

Dave says we should stick with RSS

Dave’s contribution to the popularity of RSS is quite considerable and he surely is entitled to his opinion. But I don’t agree on the naming issue.

“It’s not good to have multiple terms to refer to the same thing

Correct. But it’s not because 2 systems use RSS as delivery format that they are the same thing. RSS is no longer just a way to syndicate blog postings, it’s become a building block, a bit like HTML and CSS. Personally I am more bothered in the case of folksonomy: tags = keywords = labels. That’s confusing!

“Microsoft should also support Atom.”

Atom is a comatose patient that is being kept alive by Google/Blogger. Once Blogger starts using RSS, they will have to pull the plug.


Posted in: RSS

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