Sunday, July 6, 2003

Open Letter RSS comments

I posted this as a comment on another website, but I felt the analogies were good and wanted to add them here.

Just remember Dave's side of things, too. He's a person, like the rest of us, that has worked hard for years on something he believes in. Others come along and want to reinvent the wheel, so he says "Why not just make better wheels? I've already figured out they are round!" He also pouts a little since no one asked him to help. Everyone labels Dave as a "control freak" and doesn't say anything nice about him any more.

Take the personalities out of it. Think about the business community's perception: I just dropped money on blogging tool X and now a bunch of other folks want to "officially" rewrite the spec. What happens to the money I spent? What happens to the jobs I created? Can the developer that I bought the software from turn around new tools quickly so my feeds are compliant? Can I afford to pay the developer's fees for the upgrade?

Most of all: Why in the hell do the upgrade anyway? 7 different versions of RSS say so, but here's a cheaper way: Pick one and say it's official. No wheel inventing needed. Pick up a can of polish and a rag and make that RSS the best one ever.

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Participating in your Weblog Community

Participating in your Weblog Community

I've been doing a lot of reading about the proposed successor to RSS currently called necho. Like participating in a democracy by voting, I am participating in the development by adding commentary to the wiki. Thanks to Sam Ruby for making the wiki and allowing it free contributions. I'll take my freedom seriously and with responsibility.

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An Open Letter about RSS,RDF and Politics

An Open Letter:

I woke up this morning three times before 7AM. I was concerned and stressed that RSS is going to die under the weight of techie politics. I'm a natural problem-solver and not a worry-wort, so naturally I began to work on a solution.

The first thing I did was read. I read Mark Pilgrim'spiece over on XML.com's site, written almost 8 months ago, before the political flame war started. It seems reasonable enough and is easy to understand for someone with a basic technical background. I approached the article as a business person and a consultant to business owner. Here's a great format for delivering information on demand using derivatives of a know technology (HTML), but there are 7 different formats controlled by three different groups. Take this information and add it to the recent development of the Echo Project and I can only come to one conclusion: don't invest "real money" yet, wait for the players to shake out.

This is basically the same conclusion that was covered here and here. The words aren't the same, but the underlying theme is: business will shy away from anything that is uncertain. Ask yourself this fundamental question: if you had to invest money to grow your business, do you want to be able to control or predict your costs?

With the current fervor in the RSS/RDF/WTF groups, the average small business owner wouldn't dare take a chance on a technology investment like this. Imagine six months from now having to replace the software and lose communication with customers. That would give the perception that the *business owner* has a problem with *their* server. Who's going to push the compatible client out to all of the users. For free. And help install it. And answer their questions like: "It used to work before, why did it change?" And to be clear, answers like "Dave was a control freak" or "We wanted a better way." isn't going to wash with common computer users. Look at Microsoft's revolving line of OS updates, security patches and new versions of apps. Middle-America doesn't like stuff to change for the sake of change, even if the engineering is flawed, even if the "format needs to be more extensible".

How many times have you heard the phrase "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Well remember developers, your perception of "broke" is different than that of your users. If your users say it's broken, then fix it. Remember who pays your bills with Kagi/PayPal/AMEX payments for your software.

At the top of this semi-rant, I stated that I'm a natural problem-solver, so in that spirit, if I'm going to complain, I ought to offer a solution. Here it is.

Form a not-for-profit organization as an oversight body. Everyone, and I mean *everyone* gives up their contributions to the oversight body. Then *everyone* works together (no matter how much they hate it/someone/whatever) to come up with something better for the end user.

This is your only viable answer to keep the idea of simple content syndication alive. Business owners like to believe in something that's pioneering but has a measure of structure or control. Linux is a great example. Several daring companies used it early on, but it took RedHat to give more businesses the "excuse" to get it past Finance and Upper Management. The oversight body can accomplish this same thing.

I'm sending this story's permalink to as people as I can in the community, but please, if you are reading this, link it on your site. Leave comments. Speak as users, not developers. Speak as business owners thinking about customers and profits, not politics and personalities.

Steve Kirks

srk@mac.com

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