Embrace, Extend, Exasperate

June 29, 2005


Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard (time and time again) that some major company was extending the RSS 2.0 specification. First it was Yahoo. Then it was Microsoft. Now it is Apple. And the funny thing is that most of these major companies are submitting their extensions through some form of a community process. Heck, even Microsoft is using the Creative Commons for their extensions. But Danny Ayers hit the nail squarely on the head.

Well I’m saying nothing. I’m really tired of talking about syndication formats and harping on about extending RSS, ranting about the interop problems that will arise with extensions if there isn’t a common framework up front.

All of these extensions will cause huge interop issues. I would hate to build an RSS aggregator these days. You have to support so many “open” extensions to an approved standard – as well as “closed” extensions to unapproved standards. Currently, my browser supports RSS .92, RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, and Atom .3. I also have a podcatcher (iPodder) that supports RSS 2.0. At the same time, I now have Apple’s iTurnes 4.9 which supports their RSS extensions. Soon, I will have another browser (IE 7 beta) that supports even more variations – including RSS lists. Maybe Microsoft will also give us a new Windows Media Player that mucks things up even further.

Welcome to the buzz-o-sphere where hype becomes reality and openness becomes a cacophony.

Just because something is submitted for community review (after the fact) does not ensure interoperability. On the other hand, simply unleashing such extensions (as Apple appears to have done) does not generate enthusiasm – or long-term success. In many ways, we have to applaud Microsoft for offering the changes before code is publicly released – not after the product is in the distribution channel.

So which model works best? A spec released under community processes before the product is released (Microsoft) or a product released with extensions that have just seen the light of day? I can’t believe I’m saying this. I pick Microsoft’s approach. Think of it. Apple (who brought us OS X) is in the position of being the big gorilla forcing others into alignment. I guess when you have the dominant position in a market (the portable audio market) you can push your advantage. But when you are the newcomer (as Microsoft is with RSS), you can’t push an advantage. Instead, you spend your time getting invited into the conversation.




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