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