Worst RSS and Atom article ever

New Scientist: Google considers instant delivery service.

Are weblogs journalism? No, thank Ghu. I can’t remember the last time I saw anything so completely uninformed and just flat out wrong in a weblog post.

New Freakin’ Scientist!

… through a format called Really Simple Syndication (RSS) that was developed in 1997.

There are some parts of Dave’s view of history that seem slightly shaded to me, but unless you believe that scriptingNews (or CDF, or MCF) is RSS (a claim Dave has never to my knowledge made), you can’t say that RSS was developed before 1999. Other XML formats with similar intents, yes, but RSS was developed in 1999.

But in February 2004, Google announced that new users of its online journal Blogger would only be able to receive alerts generated by a newer format called Atom, developed in 2003 by IBM researchers.

Was January 22nd actually in February this year? Also, new users can receive “alerts” in any form they want: it’s publishing them that they only do in Atom. I’m also curious about the IBM researchers who developed Atom: I know Sam works for IBM, but Mark Pilgrim didn’t start working for them until March 2004, by which time he was fairly invisible in the Atom scene, outside of weblog comments. Are there other IBM moles, secretly working to bend Atom to their unimaginable needs? Or is it just easier to say “IBM researchers” than to say “an IBM researcher and a guy who worked for a company called Antarctica and a whole bunch of other people who just did it because they thought it would be fun, or make their life better down the road, or look really good on a resume”?

… explains Anil Dash, editor of a popular blogging site called SixApart that makes its content available in both RSS and Atom.

If Anil’s the editor of the blogging site SixApart, rather than the Vice President of Business Development for weblog software and services company Six Apart, then he better get busy: as a weblog editor he’s doing a piss-poor job, only producing a couple of posts a month.

Instead, the website continuously scans itself for any new postings and automatically updates a small file called a feed.

Continually scans itself, does it? Things like talking about evolution as fish wanting to grow lungs and legs, while sometimes amusing, are not generally thought of as a good idea in science writing. Nor is describing the process of updating a feed at the same time as the HTML for the site is updated as “the website continually scans itself” a good idea in technology writing. If you are creating your own RSS feed by continually scraping your own HTML, you really need to fire your entire IT staff.

Subscribers install free software known as a feed readers that harvest additions to the feed at time intervals that the subscriber specifies. They can also specify which type of news alerts they wish to receive because each new posting is defined by metadata, such as keywords.

Atom gives subscribers more flexibility to specify because it allows the attachment of much more metadata than RSS, say its proponents.

Wow, that sounds really sweet! You only harvest the additions, not the whole thing, you can specify just which sorts of things you want, and you can attach much more metadata in Atom than RSS. Of course, the first is patently false, the second is only available in maybe a dozen feeds that I’ve ever seen, all RSS, and other than a couple of extra dates, Atom doesn’t define any more metadata in the core than RSS, so anything you can attach at this point will be namespaced, and you can just as easily attach it to your RSS. Hell, you can attach Atom metadata to your RSS, and even have a few readers understand it.

Atom also allows any comments that are posted to a blogging site by readers to be syndicated, unlike RSS, which only allows the blogs themselves to be sent out as alerts.

Interesting. I’ve been syndicating my comments in RSS for years now. However, I don’t actually see any way in the Atom format to syndicate them in any more meaningful way than what I do in RSS, just calling them entries. Maybe someday the thread on dealing with comments will get reopened, and there will be comment-entries nested within an entry-entry, but there don’t seem to be now.

Winer believes that the creation of Atom has generated unnecessary confusion. Now people need to download two types of feed reader to receive alerts and sites need to publish in both standards. He suggests that the two standards merge to form a single standard that could be approved by the IETF.

Heh. Bet that sentence in the middle has no connection to the ones on either side of it. I’m pretty sure Dave knows that people don’t need two separate aggregators to read RSS and Atom, and also that they don’t need to publish in both formats, and knows his enemies too well to say that when he might be quoted. I also think that maybe past-tense would have been better for the final sentence: given that IETF has accepted Atom with a charter that doesn’t include “be backward compatible with RSS” as a primary requirement, there’s little or no hope of any merger: that requirement so constrains what can be done that it would really have to be right up at the top of the list going in to have any chance of happening.

And I must say, this ripping someone’s article apart sentence by sentence is entirely too much fun. I really need to either find something good and fun to write about, or get myself a job as an editor, where I can do this all day, get paid for it, and get it out of my system.


Comment by dda #
2004-06-14 22:11:24

Was January 22nd actually in February this year?

Actually, yes, at least according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The 22nd day of the 1st moon fell in 2004 on February 12, or thereabouts… :-)

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2004-06-14 22:23:38

Excellent! New Scientist uses some novel translation of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, whereby saying February actually means January, because the first month fell in February. I only hope that other people can come up with explanations as wonderful as that for the other nits ;)

Comment by dda #
2004-06-16 03:12:45

Oh, but it’s far worse than that Phil! Wait until you learn about the equivalent of leap years in the Chinese calendar! An extra month, ah, no, MOON every I-don’t-remember-how-many-years! And pray nothing like that happens next year, when Moon 1 Day 1 will fall on February 2, 2005, and thus ”February” in March!
Aaahh my head!

Comment by Geodog #
2004-06-15 01:45:25

Too funny, Phil. I would love it if you got a job doing this for a
living. I’d even pay for a subscription.

P.S. I don’t much care for the new *summary* home page — do you really need to save on bandwidth costs?

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2004-06-15 08:17:23

Not at all: I’ve always got tons to spare. Mostly, I wanted a bit more speed over dialup (it’s my home page, for lack of anything better, and I wander through it fairly often going back to things I’ve recently linked), and to get some more use out of my summaries. And it seemed sort of silly to have what’s usually more than a month’s worth of stuff displayed in full. I’m open to other ideas, I just don’t know what will fit with the way I post (including this): one long post once a week or less, with the odd time when I post four or five times in one day (which will mess with this scheme).

Comment by Arvind #
2004-06-15 05:06:15

HAHAHA That was hilarious ! I can’t believe some of those mistakes, take about badly informed O.o !

Comment by Anil #
2004-06-15 09:30:30

In fairness to Celeste, it is a fairly technical topic, and it’s hard to explain to a layperson without simplifications that read like heresy to those deeply involved in the scene. (Try reading what electronic music fans think of mainstream journalism’s reports on their favorite sub-genres.)

But fisking (I used a warblogger term!) articles is fun. And it can even (see also: MT’s license) be useful. I would resist, though, the temptation to take too much glee in attacking stuff line-by-line, because a lot of writing is about creating a context for words, and without that context, you lose a lot of the writer’s intent.

What I mean is, it’s probably more productive to offer constructive suggestions about how a mainstream syndication story should be written. I have my own suggetsions in that regard, as you can imagine, but I’d love to see yours.

And yeah, it’s hell frustrating to have my words get taken out of context for quotes. These days, I just assume that’s going to be the case.

(For reference, my own attempt at fisking a document: http://www.dashes.com/anil/2003/01/23/a_modest_declar )

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2004-06-15 23:46:22

Well, I’ve thought about it all day, and I just don’t buy ”it’s writing for an overall feel, not details.” Particular not for a short technical article, but not really in general, either. Sure, the date bobbles don’t matter much, beyond showing a complete lack of fact-checking. However, presenting you as a weblog editor, self-scraping as anything other than the last desperate act of a trapped hacker, and Atom as better because of the extra data it can carry, are all signs of someone who has no idea whatsoever about what the story is.

Whatever feel she might have been going for, she clearly didn’t understand one thing about the situation, so I can’t see where her feel is relevant. Even if it were, I just re-read it three times, trying to gloss over the details and just read for the feel. The feel I got was that syndication is push, rather than pull, that Atom is currently more expressive than RSS, and that implementing both is a horrible burden. Well, the whole ”instant updates” push tone of the article is completely wrong (try getting your instant RSS updates from Slashdot), Atom currently lacks any agreement on how to carry much of anything beyond title, link, summary, body, and the date triplets (did the discussions that Sam started, about someone wanting to know how to include the equivalent of an RSS <image> and things like that ever finish, or just go haring off?), and every aggregator author I’ve seen talking about it has said ”eh, Atom support, no big deal, just mapping a few more elements to my same data structure” (which is exactly what they should be saying: when Atom breaks new ground, instead of clearly defining the things we’ve been doing all along, is when it gets in trouble).

Comment by Tim #
2004-06-18 15:36:11

It’s really only difficult to explain highly complex technical topics when you don’t understand what you’re talking about. When you know your proverbial sh*t, it’s actually pretty easy.

I was a tech editor at Wired & WiredNews (long ago), and good tech writing is hard — so hard that the 2 aforementioned publications stumbled often themselves (more the former than latter, imo). I still cringe at the mere mention of ”Push”. [How Pointcast, little more than a souped-up screensaver, would change the world was always beyond me.]

But that’s the trap of most journalism – broad bold strokes make for better headlines!!! And when headlines determine your direction, everything else suffers, including the quality of people you hire and your expectations of them.

Bad writing is bad writing. There’s many reasons why an article might end up imperfect, but there’s just as many reasons for the reporter to have their facts straight. Writing is, after all, assembling words, facts, etc. in order to convey meaning. If the meaning’s lost, what’s the point?

Comment by Michael #
2004-06-15 14:58:14

When I read ”IBM Researchers,” I had a vision of group in white coats gathered in a laboratory complete with test tubes.

Mark didn’t join IBM until around March 1st. And last I knew, Tim Bray works somewhere else. Not to mention all the countless individuals who contributed…

Trackback by Neil's Smaller World #
2004-06-15 04:12:32

Worst RSS and Atom article ever

Phil on a really poorly researched New Scientist article on syndication. It’s so bad it’s actually comical.

Trackback by Vanity Foul #
2004-06-15 06:13:18

Re: Worst RSS and Atom article ever

As you may have guessed, I support Atom. But I am distressed when Atom (and RSS) are represented so poorly as in the article that Phil rips apart . What got a chuckle out of me was this line of Phil’s:
If you are creating your own RSS feed by cont

Comment by Hesichen #
2007-02-28 16:39:52

First of all I am sorry for my seems ”like spam” comment, I believe that guys famous like you may have tons of spammers continuisly buggin your blog with useless messages, anyway this is not my case, The only important site I have is”www.puntocina.com”, for wich I was looking for a module for Joomla(my CMS), that can show the ”rss for Chinese Lunar Calendar (more or less now I can’t remember exactly)” in my site, so I find out this post, high ranking in google searchpages in second page as you can see at http://www.google.com/search?q=rss+for+Chinese+Lunar+Calendar&hl=en&client=flock&rls=FlockInc.:en-US:official&start=10&sa=N . At the start I didn’t realize why google.com directed me to your page(except for immediately realize that you are a programmer, maybe famous programmer? I realize now that perarphs I used in the past your blog tool to for firefox, (now I converted myself to flock)), and starting browsing your blog looking for what I was came about, but without success, finally I back to this post and have seen the comments talking about ”Chinese Lunar Calendar”, I was merely felt myself stupid wasting my time thinking to find easily some ”RSS module for chinese lunar calendar” in a site of an expert programmer as you seem like to be, but i did it, at least I found funny your comments, so I was confort myself leaving a ”sign” in your site, I know the importance of the link comment to improve my ”network popularity”, so was a kind of some comfort to my delusion left a link to my only important site. But the Idea of a ”digital Magpie” was intriguing me, so in the afternoon I came back to your page for reading something else, but found surprisingly that you have deleted my comment already, I can’t understand the reason, later I had no more time in the office to write you, so I am doing it now. I repeat again that I am still very sorry for the my first ”spamming messagge”, even I think it was different from most of the spammers(they came also in my blog, with toons of links to their sites” do, but I can assure you it wasn’t intentionaly. I am chinese, a nation with full state censorship, and I was very angry and dissapointed to see who is famous like you to do the same censorship to a common person like me, in the freedom world I don’t think it’s correct. Now you have both two my official email adresses, if you like you can write me; of course you can also decide to do not trust me and ignore me, but in this case, why do you left your blog open to the comments? I have a blog (in my sign now) talking about the danger behind the economic growth in Chinese nowadays society, injustices, kills of freedom, corruptions are everywhere, did not expected some delution like this from a Magpie (do you kno that magpie means in chinese tradition happiness? also wiki report it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magpie ).

Comment by Hesichen #
2007-02-28 16:43:04

Sorry also for my poor english, I needed to let out what was my innermost feeling. I also forgot to explain you that I am living now in Europe, Italy. regards, and happy pig-year ;)

He Sichen

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2007-02-28 20:43:08

Excellent turn-around: whether or not you are only in search of links, that comment was sufficiently interesting to counterbalance my usual assumption that any comment unrelated to the post, linking to something in a language I don’t read, is likely to be spam.

If you are going to make a habit of commenting on Googled-up weblogs, particular on old posts that aren’t what you are commenting about, I do hope that you’ll soon develop an indifference to having your comments deleted: I wouldn’t like to think of someone feeling hurt each time it happens, when it’s something that’s likely to happen so often. Personally, I get around a thousand spam comments a day, and when I’m not posting much, an average of perhaps one real comment a month, which makes for a high wall you need to scale.

Comment by Hesichen #
2007-02-28 21:18:07

”…turn-around”Maybe I didn’t understand your tinge of irony? 1- Anyway you are right when you say:”linking to something in a language I don’t read, is likely to be spam”, I actually didn’t take into consideration this, I will pay more attention in the future. But pls consider that my blog is so poor in readers, that even if they linking something in opposite languages of mine (especially in the sign) I didn’t care about, it’s enough that their comment is marginally related to the discussion. 2- is not my habit seeking the web for chasing weblogs withouth relevance with what my sites is talking about, and neither I like posting irrelevant comments, so thank you for your interst, I will tace care of your word. 3- Is ”you” referred to me? If yes, you don’t need to worry, I said your blog is interesting, and the magpie is a intriguing animal in the chinese tradition, but your subject is not the mine, so I can only be a quite viewer, or at the most (worst) a student with some kinda of interest to learn something about a different subject. —I am very slow to write, and here in Italy is very late (earl morn already actually, and I should go to the office at 9:00, ouch! gg=)), I used the dictionary for most of these two comments, but again, don’t worry, yesterday I had the desire(and some time) to do this:is not my use to be.
Maybe YOU can find one day something interesting about China that I can ”teach” you. Or may ever not! Who knows?
Cheers =)
He Sichen
P.S. you’re welcome to both China and Italy, i will enjoy to take you the route to best trippn’ these two baeutiful countries.

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