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Why is RSS 1.0 named RSS?

Tue, Aug 27, 2002; by Dave Winer.

Earlier today I asked this question on Scripting News:

I wonder if someone can answer a simple question, without being insulting. Here's the question. Why is RSS 1.0 called RSS? Please state your opinion, if you have one. (BTW, if you don't understand that question, that's okay. Instead, send me an email saying what RSS is.)

Now, it's not the first time this question has been asked, but it's the first time in quite a while, and instead of using a mail list, which can quickly flame out, I asked on my weblog, which meant that people could post a response on their weblog, or send me an email, but even if people ignored my request not to be insulting they couldn't bring the discussion to a halt. I'm going to quote some of the responses here.

Shelley Powers, who is writing a book on RDF, says: "By bringing RSS into compliance with the RDF specifications, you can (as I did yesterday) process an RSS document using the same pre-built APIs, services, and applications used to process RDF/XML defining other business processes. This processing reuse allows folks to focus on the unique needs of the business and the business data, rather than on the mechanics of how to process, store, or generate the XML."

Mike Lee: "By the time RSS progress from 0.92 to 0.99 it will more of less become RSS 1.0."

Morbus Iff: "I've always seen RSS 1.0 as a natural progression from the RSS v0.9x series."

Aaron Swartz, a member of the RSS 1.0 working group, says: "It seemed reasonable for the successor to RSS and RSS to be named RSS."

Ken MacLeod, also a member of the RSS 1.0 working group, says: "RSS 1.0 came from [part of] the RSS community as a solution for feeds, aggregators, and users to add information to those channels and items without requiring those additional elements be blessed thru a central command or committee."

Brian Hughes, a webmaster at Dartmouth says: "I think this might be a pretty simple question to answer. RSS 0.9 was an already established technology, with actual users, and the RDF crowd needed something to use as the test-bed for their new XML notation, which they believe to be the 'missing link' for the semantic web. Since RSS was designed to be computer parsed, and that's one of key concepts behind RDF, that made a natural fit. I honestly think it never occurred to them to ask the existing RSS users if they wanted a '1.0' version of the spec, nor do I think they expected anyone to object. After all, they were 'making it better.'"

Seth Cousins

Hi Dave, we've never talked but I've been reading Scripting News for a bit more than a year now. It has given me lots to think about and lots of good pointers to current events and issues in the internet world (which now includes the political world...). It might even get me to start a weblog one of these days.

Funny that you should mention RSS, I got thoroughly confused over this exact issue a couple of weeks ago.

I'm writing a business-customer communication application for a nascent software company. I needed a data transmission format. XML made the most sense, lots of standard tools to create and parse, etc. I was going to use SOAP because I was familiar with it; in my last job I wrote a SOAP listener in an ISAPI dll. I'd seen a bunch of SOAP vs. REST comments in Scripting News, managed to track that down and realized that SOAP was way overkill for my needs. So, a simple HTTP GET that returns an XML stream. Somehow I decided that I should look into RSS and went looking for specs. I found your docs on 0.91, 0.92, 0.93 (only by accident), but no 0.94 (actually just now I found your ideas for evolution of RSS, but no mention there that you call it 0.94). I also found something calling itself RSS 1.0. Cool, thinks I, I'll print this out and read it at my leisure. I'll make sure that I can parse 1.0 streams and 0.9x should just about work by itself. Huh, no such luck. These are two completely different beasts. So I did a little more searching, just to see what people were actually using. Seems like there is an order of magnitude more 0.9x streams out there than 1.0.

Cutting my ramble short, I decided that 0.9x was much simpler for me to implement, did everything that I needed (and more), plus it will be easy to pull headlines from other sources and might make my app more useful to more people.

As far as I can tell RSS 1.0 is RSS in name only. I really don't see that it is more functional than 0.9x, only that it would take more work to implement correctly. But it is in line with most of the other XML related proposals and standards that I've read. So baroque that you get caught up in the intricacy of its construction and forget what you started out to do (Schemas, yikes! SOAP is right on the border, I think, but most of the extensions are way over the line. Encryption and signing, my God!). This stuff is all so fucking designed within an inch or its life, no one but Microsoft or IBM or some other giant would have the time & market clout to pull off a complete implementation and even then they'd change or extend it to work better with their platforms or just cut some features so they could finally ship the damn thing. The rest of us are better off finding something that we can make work today so we can ship products tomorrow and evolve our solutions as we move forward.

Hmm, might have verged into insulting there, but I suspect that you agree with me. Anyway, thanks for putting your thoughts out, I have gotten a lot from them and continue to get a lot from them.

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