It’s just data

Mr Safe

Q: It has been 31 months since I last talked to Tim Bray, Jon Udell, Joshua Allen, Chad Dickerson, Dave Winer and John Gotze.  Can I have an update?  Are Funky extensions still an issue?

A: Only if you want to name an author without revealing their email address to spammers, or to include the full content of your data in addition to a summary, or if you want to include the date the item was published on platforms like JSP which automatically try to adjust for localization based on HTTP headers — but don’t worry, the latter can be solved with enough work, and every widely used consumer of RSS ignores the “funkiness” issue.

Q: Hmmm.  And what’s this I hear about silent data loss?

A: Well, the effective content model for RSS has been described as “Here’s something that might be HTML. Or maybe not. I can’t tell you, and you can’t guess.” so things that look like HTML are routinely misinterpreted.  The author of FeedDemon indicates that he gets multiple bug reports per week on this issue alone.

Q: Couldn’t that simply be solved by identifying which elements are HTML and which elements are plain text?

A: Yes

Q: How long could that take?

A: Well, lets put it this way.  Remember that Echo effort Jon told you about?  We started based on experiences with RSS, but otherwise with a clean slate.  We had interminable discussions over the name of the effort.  Then we had interminable discussions over which standards body to pick.  Then we had interminable discussions over dates.  Eventually we solved all the issues above as well as other issues like relative URIs.  And we had to wait while the slow standards process ground away.  And finally, we got an official RFC issued by an internationally recognized standards body: the IETF. The same organization that issued the HTTP and SMTP standards — these are the protocols that power the web and email respectively.

Q: I don’t want to hear about Atom.  Everybody is talking about RSS. Surely in that time there was an update to RSS?

A: There were several.  There was an RSS 1.1.  And an individual I never heard of who is working on an RSS 3.0.  In RSS 2.0, an example was added to indicate how HTML could be used in one of the elements, but plain text remained valid.  Oh, and ownership of the 2.0 spec transferred to Harvard.

Q: Harvard?  They are a respectable institution.  That should be pretty safe, right?

A: Well an RSS Advisory Board was set up, and they did all the work.  Harvard reportedly is “delighted to know that many members of the RSS community continue to work on relevant issues to move the industry along in various ways, including related to the spec itself, Harvard has no involvement with any of these efforts.”

Q: No involvement?  What a pity.  OK, tell me about this RSS Advisory Board then.  How can I join?

A: Beats me.  Several are recruited never to be heard from again, and are quietly purged from the list.  Others replace them without any documented nomination or vote.  And reportedly the original founder of this group claims that the RSS Advisory Board no longer exists. Something that came to the evident surprise to the current chair.

Q: Ouch.  Does this claim have any weight?

A: Perhaps.  The role of the Advisory Board has always been, well, advisory.  Both the owner of the spec, and the sole author of the spec, are clearly stated — in the spec itself.  Once the author of the spec left the board, the board’s role in recommending changes was rendered somewhat irrelevant.  When he was asked about reviving the board, his response — according to the very words that the chair posted on his website — was that you could “carry on the business in any way you want” with conditions that included that “the spec, to be left as-is”.

Q: OK, so they have shut down then?

A: No.  They are still working towards producing a draft-1.

Q: Can they do that?

A: I’m not a lawyer, but the spec is under a Creative Commons by-attribution share-alike license, so apparently literally anybody can create a derivative work as long as they attribute Harvard and license their work under an identical license.

Q: Anybody?  So, we have the possibility of even more forks?

A: I’m afraid so.

Q: But Microsoft is planning to include RSS support in LongHorn, I mean Vista, in 2006 or 2007 or 2008 or something.  Microsoft is no dummy. Why did they pick RSS over Atom?

A: You have to realize that Microsoft uses the term RSS like many use the term Kleenex.  I’m not sure why they insist on confusing the market this way.

Q: So you are saying that Microsoft supports Atom too?

A: Yes, their Feed API works just fine with Atom feeds.  They were also amongst the very first to produce feeds that conform to the Atom 1.0 specification.

Q: But surely when Joshua Allen told me that it was safe to go with RSS, he was referring to RSS 2.0, not Atom which didn’t exist yet?

A: Actually, I think Joshua secretly prefers RSS 1.0.

Q: Oh, this is so confusing.  But being so new, Atom can’t be very widely supported yet, can it?

A: At this point, pretty much everybody supports Atom.  But I have to be honest with you, we are still working with the vendors to address conformance issues based on results of running their tools against the set of Atom compliance tests that have been defined to date.

Q: Ah ha!  Since RSS 2.0 has been around longer, tools undoubtedly do better job on the RSS 2.0 compliance tests, Right?

A: There are no RSS 2.0 compliance tests.

Q: Where do you think we will be two to three years from now?  Will there be new versions of Atom?  Of RSS?

A: As we discussed, work is actively continuing on a new draft of RSS 2.0.  Ultimately, we’ll either get a real spec for RSS 2.0 or see more people fleeing to Atom and RSS 1.0.  Unlike RSS 2.0, the core of Atom is already clearly specified.  Instead, efforts are focused on extensions.

Q: Meanwhile, it finally is safe to put out feeds... based on Atom 1.0?

A: Yes.

links for 2006-02-20

Revisiting the RSS vs. Atom arguments from over a year ago...

Excerpt from Dan Dickinson: The Primary Vivid Weblog at

Mr Safe is Back

Sam Ruby with a great entry about Atom vs. RSS. I’m by no means an expert, but out of a weird interest in this real-world soap opera, I have followed the RSS/funky-RSS/Pie/Echo/Atom developments as an outside observer for the entire time. Based on this, my advice is: If you are considering using RSS, don’t; use Atom instead. Maybe the Atom...... [more]

Trackback from Stefan Tilkov's Random Stuff


Mr Safe: Well, the effective content model for RSS has been described as “Here’s something that might be HTML. Or maybe not. I can’t tell you, and you can’t guess.” so things that look like HTML are routinely...

Excerpt from Spoken at

Sam Ruby: Mr Safe

in which Mr. Safe gets schooled. Again....

Excerpt from at

He’s Back!

Mr. Safe, I mean. I introduced him in 2003 (scroll down to “Houston, We Have a Problem”) and lots of others seemed to enjoy inviting him to their blogs for a chat about syndication politics. For those fortunate enough not to have noticed, there’s a...

Excerpt from ongoing at

Today's links [February 20, 2006]

There’s an RSS advisory board at Harvard"Is RSS controlled by one person? No. Each of the advisors must make up his or her own mind..." The RSS advisory board goes public, apparently with Dave Winer’s blessing"A new era begins today for the RSS...

Excerpt from Blogging Roller at

As far as I can tell, the rss-draft-1 specification text is not a derivative of the RSS 2.0.1-* specification text.  Correspondingly, the copyright notice on the rss-draft-1 states ownership solely by the organization “RSS Advisory Board”.  There is no public license on the work so it can be assumed for the moment that there will be no mirror copies, unauthorized translations, unauthorized publications in books, or further revisions of this text should the board become defunct.

Posted by Ken MacLeod at

Sam Ruby: Mr Safe

Isofarro : Sam Ruby: Mr Safe - Mr Safe continues his chat about RSS2.0, and finds RSS2.0 in an even bigger mess than 18 months ago....

Excerpt from HotLinks - Level 1 at

Mr. Safe and Atom

Remember Mr. Safe? Apparently, no one has spoken with the gentleman in quite a while. Sam Ruby decided to take some time and have a conversation with him. The results are interesting and informative. I have been thinking about the whole Harvard...

Excerpt from at

Has anyone done a comprehensive survey of RSS/Atom consumers and producers in the wild? It would be really useful to see actual statistics concerning the tools that are out there and how well they support the various syndication formats. It would at least give those of us still puzzling over which format to produce a better idea of what would make our content accessible to the largest audience.

Posted by Simon Willison at

Sam, Thanks for this post. 

I was creating a new site recently and was looking for a reason to even bother supporting RSS in any form in addition to Atom.

Little has been written recently on the debate, so I’m glad you chimed in.

I ended up finding no reason to support RSS. I’ve probably spent 10x more time looking for a reason to support RSS than it would have taken to add it.  Thanks for your work to make this possible.

Posted by Daniel Morrison at

My bookshop

Several years ago, I created Gotzemazon, an Amazon-WS-driven shop. People out there are actually using it (thank you!), so I thought it was time to refresh it a bit. I see some opportunities in thematic bookshops, for example an EA...... [more]

Trackback from Gotzeblogged


Ken, the draft document you refer to is the documentation of the spec, documentation that is completely valid to copyright; it’s like an author copyrighting her book about Photoshop.  The spec that the draft documents, 2.0.1rv6, carries the standard Harvard license statement.

Posted by Jason at

links for 2006-02-21

Mr Safe Of course, Steve and the others will deny there’s any problem like they always do, but Mr Safe undoubtedly learnt a lot from Sam Ruby today. (tags: RSS Syndication standards politics Atom feeds)...

Excerpt from SunMink at

Jason, what you’ve said about the copyright status doesn’t appear to contradict what I said.  However, rss-draft-1 is not merely about the RSS 2.0 spec, it’s currently being presented as a new version of RSS 2.0, even insofar as to provide a new version increment, 2.0.2, for publishers to indicate their intent for compliance.

Posted by Ken MacLeod at

“As far as I can tell, the rss-draft-1 specification text is not a derivative of the RSS 2.0.1-* specification text.”

It’s a newly written document that did not begin with RSS 2.0.1-rv-6 as a starting point. They describe the same set of elements and attributes, but I don’t see how RSS-Draft-1 could be described as a derivative work of 2.0.1-rv.6.

That distinction may prove moot, depending on how the board wanted to license the spec upon its adoption.

Posted by Rogers Cadenhead at

Operationally Defined

Sam Ruby: “Ultimately, we’ll either get a real spec for RSS 2.0 or see more people fleeing...” If you work...... [more]

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Steve Gillmor: Blogger and war correspondent

The syndication wars have re-erupted, like a recurring rash for which there’s no cure. The only difference from the last time this occured is that now everyone has a blog, including journalists, and unsurprisingly the most shrill and vacuous post...

Excerpt from BitWorking at

Q: It has been 31 months since I last talked to Tim Bray , Jon Udell , Joshua Allen , Chad Dickerson , Dave Winer and John Gotze . ... Permalink More on this thread: ongoing / He’s Back! - Mr. Safe, I mean. I introduced him in 2003 (scroll down to...

Excerpt from TailRank: Top posts at

BlogsNow 94 Sam Ruby: Mr Safe

Sam Ruby: Mr Safe 2006-02-21 07:49:42... and you know first...

Excerpt from BlogsNow at

Today I explained the basics of the RSS controversy to the high school stats class I teach, so that I could introduce the next topic in this way:

Statistician:  When we haven’t conducted a preliminary survey, we can use 1/4 to approximate the value of p(1-p).

Mr Safe: That’s great, but I want you to make sure that 1/4 is the value that minimizes the sample size that we have to take while ensuring that the unknown population p-value always falls within the calculated interval with the confidence level that our firm requires.

Posted by Micah at

Housekeeping, Syndication Politics

Have dumped my RSS2 feed in favor of 100% Atom 1.0. Support for Atom has gotten to the point where I think that’s feasible — I’ve only kept the RSS f [...]...

Excerpt from Wintermute ?bits at

Read/WriteWeb Filter

- The Return of Mr Safe (like a geeky version of Inspector Clouseau, Mr Safe is one of the enduring characters of the tech blogging world... in this latest episode he confronts his old foes Chief Inspector Funky and the evil Dr Fork) - Stowe Boyd on...

Excerpt from Read/WriteWeb at

Links for 2006-02-23 []

Sam Ruby: Mr Safe Russell Beattie Notebook - More MySpace Thoughts I signed up for MySpace! Will you be my friend? Here’s my profile, and here’s my blog. I’m so cool and hip now, no? Teens: It’s So Hard To Relate Today’s teens are...

Excerpt from Matt McAlister at

RSS politics

Mr. Safe is back on the scene. Most of what he and I discussed nearly a thousand days ago holds up pretty well today. However, I’d like to apologize for calling Dave Winer a control freak. RSS politics being what it is and always has been, there...

Excerpt from Jon's Radio at

Syndication Standards and Ugly PHP

If you have never seen my web site, then this post is for you. Last night i switched from providing an RSS 2.0 feed to ATOM 1.0 exclusively. The primary reason is that specs need to usable by developers. I find myself in situations now where i need...

Excerpt from The Robinson House at

Sam Ruby: Mr Safe

Syndication War is back :)...

Excerpt from Last public marks from user znarf at

RSS Has No Future

RSS has no future. Don’t believe me? Just ask its creator, Dave Winer (link added by me): It’s possible that a new format, based on RSS 2.0 could be an improvement, but any person or group attempting to do that must not in any way claim the...

Excerpt from The Licquia Blog at

Why Atom?

Read this and all will be made clear....

Excerpt from James Snell at

Atom as a Case Study

This is adapted from my talk of the same name at ETech 2006. The talk’s sections were entitled Why?, How?, What?, and Lessons?; I’ve left out What?, the description of what Atom is, since we’ve had plenty of that around here. That leaves Why we...

Excerpt from ongoing at

Atom versus RSS

Atom versus RSS David Heinemeier Hansson in the comments on one of his entries: Joe: Atom is just RSS without the bugs. [...] What he said. The more I’ve learned about syndication formats, the more thankful I’ve been that I picked Atom way back...

Excerpt from Chris's Wiki :: blog at

Closet RDF

... [more]

Trackback from Better Living Through Software


Closet RDF

Somehow I missed this from Sam Ruby, during the chaos planning for MIX06. Sam gets the attention of “Mr. Safe”, and then proceeds to scare the living crap out of him. The real gem, though, is when Sam explains to Mr. Safe that "Joshua Allen secretly...

Excerpt from Better Living Through Software at

Sam Ruby: Mr Safe

“And reportedly the original founder of this group claims that the RSS Advisory Board no longer exists”...

Excerpt from at

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