Timing is everything

Volume 12, Issue 15; 07 May 2009; last modified 08 Oct 2010

So, AtomPub is a failure and RSS is dead. Anyone want to guess what my conference presentation next week is about?

The genesis of my presentation for the Mark Logic User Conference next week was the AtomPub implementation I described a few months ago.

Imagine my delight when, as I was getting the presentation in order, Joe Gregorio declared The Atom Publishing Protocol is a failure and Steve Gillmor wrote Rest in Peace, RSS. Do I have great timing, or what?

In point of fact, neither of these posts causes me any great concern. Despite the hyperbole of Joe's title, is actual observation is that “[AtomPub] hasn't seen the level of adoption [he] had hoped”. He goes on to describe a number of plausible reasons why this is the case, mostly having to do with improvements in browser technologies.

It may not have taken over the world, but support on the Google Data APIs, Microsoft Windows Live, and some social networking sites, such as Flickr (though I can't find a link to that, so maybe it's not yet deployed), seems pretty successful to me. Besides, I'm not primarily interested in passing data to or from a web browser, although there's an app^Wextension for that.

I want to be able to pass structured data around, data that's too richly structured for JSON to be of any practical value and data that isn't typically HTML. I could (and have) invented my own data formats and my own APIs, but rarely as robustly and completely as Atom and AtomPub.

Part of my interest in implementing AtomPub stems from a long range goal to reinvent this weblog on top of MarkLogic Server. For that, I'll want to be able to pass DocBook essays in and out of the server, contacts, appointments, geospatial data, etc. AtomPub makes that easy.

As for Gillmor's piece, I'm not sure what to say exactly, except “Huh?” His opening shot amounts to nothing more than a metaphorical restatement of Sturgeon's Law, which applies equally to Twitter. If the “river of news” has become the “East River of news”, I'm not sure what the “twitter stream” has become, exactly, but I wouldn't want to swim in it either.

If your experience of syndication was that you lived in your favorite feed aggregator, refreshing it constantly so that you could get the latest “hot link” or one-liner from your friends the minute they happened, then sure, I can see how Twitter is a replacement.

That's just not how I ever used syndication. I never used by reader more than a few times a week after the initial technology excitement wore off. I use it to collect and aggregate longer, more thoughtful pieces from users or sites that offer a good signal-to-noise ratio on the topics I'm interested in.

Which isn't to say that it's all deep and thoughtful stuff. Among my aggregated feeds, you'll find a humor folder that collects things like xkcd, Indexed, and Worse Than Failure, a Mark Logic folder that collects things likely to be related to my day job, another folder that's a shameless bit of ego surfing, a photography folder, and a medium sized folder of individuals about who's projects and opinions I think I should be aware.

Twitter doesn't replace any of that. In fact, several of those folders contain a feed of Twitter search results. So, in fact, I actually find it more useful to aggregate some tweets into a feed than read them any other way.

Which is not to say that Twitter hasn't cannibalized weblogs to an extent. It certainly has. Writing a personal weblog, absent any quest for money or fame, is about scratching an itch. Twitter scratches that itch, so I'm less motivated to write posts that do little more than point to something cool or convey my wit.

I don't know if my weblog is more or less valuable for this change, but it isn't likely to go away because I have twitter. I care about lots of things that require more nuanced understanding than you can squeeze into 140 characters.

On the subject of RSS, it seems only fair to let Dave Winer have the last word.


Very much agree and glad you wrote this. It's apparently trendy to emphasise how web pages should be short to cater for the reduced attention spans of the kids of today. That always feels a bit too cargo-cultish.

Longer, interesting pieces are worth reading and, often, worth writing for the feedback one receives and the opportunity to organise something larger than a micro-thought. I'm somewhere in-between your usage and the Twitter-junkies, I suspect. I use my aggregator to, well, aggregate. Some of what I collect is for now, some for later reading, some as food for thought and some for collecting. The latter categories are important. Those of us with the ability and inclination to write shouldn't feel bad about doing so; seems fair to assume there will always be readers, even of the longer pieces.

—Posted by Malcolm Tredinnick on 07 May 2009 @ 06:57 UTC #

what exactly is too complex for JSON? you can give your JSON objects a URI and use the key/value fields as predicate/objects respectively. voila, RDF

granted it lacks a URI literal in the syntax ,something i'd like to see and seeminlgy ignored in ECMA4 despite the fact that JS/JSON is 'the' language of the web...

—Posted by carmen on 08 May 2009 @ 02:35 UTC #

"I want to be able to pass structured data around, data that's too richly structured for JSON to be of any practical value and data that isn't typically HTML. I could (and have) invented my own data formats and my own APIs, but rarely as robustly and completely as Atom and AtomPub."

I'd be interested in more on this topic please Norm? "Pass around"? within your own PC setup or something else?

I.e. how Atom|AtomPub meet this need?


—Posted by Dave Pawson on 08 May 2009 @ 06:16 UTC #