It’s always sad when a large magazine like Business Week so badly butchers the news. Today’s offender is Jay Greene, who takes the news of Microsoft extending RSS and including functionality in Longhorn, and completely misses the mark in his coverage and analysis.
Allow me to pick it apart:
The software giant has decided to put its considerable weight behind Really Simple Syndication, known to the digerati simply as RSS.
Consider what this sentence is claiming: it’s called Really Simple Syndication, but the geeks call it RSS. And while I don’t disagree that geeks call it RSS (although a number of us prefer the format-neutral term “feeds”), I don’t know of any non-geeks who refer to it as anything other than RSS.
It should also be noted that Microsoft isn’t merely extended RSS 2.0, which is how most everyone has been treating it. At the bottom of their developer information page linked above, there are links to the specs for Atom and RSS 1.0, in addition to RSS 2.0. There’s no reference in the specs for the extension that it’s linked to merely one of these formats. This extension is not limited to a particular format.
The technology makes it convenient for Web users to keep tabs on their favorite blogs, news feeds, columnists, and video by signing up to have updates automatically zapped to their PCs or mobile devices.
Automatically zapped? Oh, please. I know there’s a need to occasionally dumb things down, but this is just ludicrous.
“Automatically zapped” indicates that any time a site changes, your machine instantly receives the change. This is not how syndication works, and is in fact incorrect on both parts of the phrase. Feeds are not sent to a computer, nor are they instantaneous. A computer has to go out and ask for the feed file, and then compares it to whatever entries it had previously seen. This happens on a regular schedule, or on demand.
Microsoft, which has largely been on the sidelines as RSS gained in popularity, announced plans on June 24 to bake RSS technology into the next version of its Windows operating system, dubbed Longhorn, due at the end of 2006.
They also announced extensions to syndication formats, which is the more shocking part of the news. Obviously this is worth glossing over, as it’s apparently too technical for the reader base. I mean, only the digerati would care about something like that.
What’s more, Microsoft is going after the RSS market in a very un-Microsoft-like way -– it’s making its RSS technology available for free using the so-called Creative Commons license.
If you’re looking for the single most misleading sentence in the whole article, this is it.
Microsoft’s “RSS technology” is not being made available for free; It’s the format extensions that are being released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. This isn’t to say Microsoft can’t release source code later for their technology, but it’s not at all what was announced.
Furthermore, there is nothing “so-called” about the Creative Commons; it is a total non-sequitur and completely out of place. It’d be akin to me referring to the publication this article was published in as “the so-called Business Week”.
But Microsoft plans to dive much deeper when Longhorn ships. Including the RSS technology in the new operating system will allow thousands of software developers to create programs that take advantage of RSS feeds.
Thousands of software developers can already create programs that take advantage of RSS feeds. Thousands of software developers already have.
What Microsoft is doing to “dive much deeper” is using a system-level subscription list, fetching scheduler, and parser. While I can understand the nicety of the fetching scheduler and maybe the parser, I’m personally ambivalent about the system-wide subscription list. Still, there’s nothing preventing a developer from implementing RSS functionality now.
The giant’s foray into the RSS world is clearly a threat to upstart RSS reader companies.
Which is it – are they allowing thousands of software developers to create programs that take advantage of feeds, or are they the two thousand pound gorilla that is clearly a threat to upstart companies?
Look, it’s great if Microsoft is including a feed reader in IE – every browser should have one, simply because if people use it, they will see the benefits of syndication. Don’t think, however, that a product bound into the operating system is going to quench everyone’s thirst for tools. People still choose Firefox over IE and Safari, Eudora over Outlook, Adium over iChat. Third parties can survive, even with core OS support for technologies and protocols.
But Microsoft’s mere presence in the market will do one thing that all the other companies combined haven’t been able to achieve yet: It will make RSS mainstream technology.
How this reads to you depends on if you’re an optimist or a pessimist. As a realist, I will go down both paths.
Optimists will tell you syndication has been mainstream for years – look at the level of syndication provided by major companies like BBC, New York Times, Google, Reuters, et cetera. Look at the number of feed readers available like My Yahoo, My MSN, Bloglines, NetNewsWire, Gmail clips, and the like. People use RSS without knowing it: Apple’s whizzy new screensaver in Tiger, syndicated accounts on LiveJournal (if you’re reading this on LJ, you’re using syndication), live bookmarks in Firefox, and more.
Syndication has been mainstream for years, if you look at it that way.
Pessimists will tell you that even with all these great tools out there, there still aren’t enough people actually using it. Syndication scares people. Feeds are too hard to find, too hard to subscribe to via a standard method, and lead to quirks when you deal with things like character encoding and updated posts. None of the things Microsoft are doing – the features in Longhorn and IE, as well as the extensions to the formats – change any of this.
From this standpoint, syndication will never be mainstream.
Point being made: Either you can believe syndication is already mainstream and Microsoft’s work isn’t going to change anything, or you can believe that syndication isn’t mainstreams for reasons such that Microsoft’s work isn’t going to change anything. Net result: Microsoft’s work is not going to change anything.