We recently launched a new feature on the Indymedia Global site. Built on top of RSS, the features newswire is an aggregation of the hilighted stories (features) from the local IMCs.
There has been a large amount of contentious discussion about this feature, and its been very interesting. It has proved to be a chance for IMC to revive, and reaffirm our institutional memory, the quasi-verbal tradition that binds us together. Many others have responded to other points superbly, however I felt that I should respond to the claim that, “XML/RSS is corporate plot to take over the world”. It was claimed that RSS is some sort of proprietary technology maintained by AOL/TimeWarner, and that we were forcing people to abandon the road of Free Software to come mingle their stories with ours. I have a long (if not very active) involvement in RSS, so I want to
First, the link Arc sent,
RSS: Lightweight Web Syndication is a good starting point, Rael is very heavily involved
in the current state of RSS, and is generally an excellent and insightful
tech writer. Rael, like all historians, is also trying to push a particular viewpoint
with his history. He is trying to build legitimacy for his idea of a
modular, RDF compliant RSS. So here is another prespective, a much more personal, and less eloquent one, perhaps.
My colloquial history of RSS
I first saw RSS mentioned on Slashdot in early 1999, I think around January or so, as an Ask Slashdot story
about the new alpha Netcenter, Netscape’s late entry into the portal game.
Netcenter was the first, last, and only cool portal. It acknowledged that
people might want content beyond the generic fare of AP and Reuters
(something Yahoo still doesn’t offer) So it invented a format to allow
headlines to be syndicated into its Netcenter Channels. And they added
MozilliaZine and Slashdot.
So someone asked, “Could we create our own Netcenter channel?”, and the
creator of Netcenter RSS responded in a comment explaining the process
(which was still totally informal, as it was pretty much just this one guy
doing it) And so light weight syndication took off. At protest.net we had
just recently started re-posting DAMN articles, and a few of our own
pieces, and so we whipped up a RSS feed, and submitted it to Netcenter,
and it was included. So now the really amazing content from the late and much lamented Direct Action Media Network was showing up on this mainstream corporate
And then Slashdot decided they wanted channels, and they called them
Slashboxes, and put CowboyNeal in charge (who was accepting if flaky) and
the whole network of small self-publishing sites, sharing content and
traffic, which has grown exponentially recently to include the bloggers
This is all pre-AOL acquisition of Netscape. AOL bought Netscape, and
gave Sun all the good stuff, keeping Netcenter, and the browser for
itself. Some people speculated that they bought Netscape for Netcenter.
That might have been, but one of AOL’s first acts was to shut down the
super cool Netcenter, and replace it with a generic portal. (probably
bought from Infospace)
I don’t remember when I first heard about the syndication mailing list,
but I sure jumped when I did. We had been talking for a while about how
to create a syndication network to share the content from Protest.net,
DAMN, and Zmag
in a meaningful way, and here were some of the sharpest
people doing this stuff all haggling about syndication.
Well I thought the list was a flop. Dave Winer had not mellowed down into the
quiet, open minded buddhist monk we know today. And he browbeat
people into abandoning the original pie-in-the-sky ideals of RDF/XML and
turning RSS into the Userland format. RDF being TBL’s attempt to build
some tools to make the web a collection of rationale information, where
your access to being heard is dependent on the quality of your
And thats how things stayed, we kept talking about building this
syndication network, without ever having time to do it, and RSS kept
puttering along, and I kind of lost track of it. (IMC happened, and there
went the last moment I had to stop and catch my breath for like a year)
And when I saw Rael’s first post
about modular RSS, RSS 1.0, an idea to
get back to the original ideas about RSS being an open format, and RDF,
and adding XML namespaces, to allow people to innovate, and do their own
thing, but still work together. And it used Dublin Core, and it was
elegant, and his first act was to say, I’m just playing with ideas, lets
make an open mailing list, and all talk about this for a few months, and
see what people think of it. And so it went, RSS 1.0 evolved in an open
fashion, geeks flailing in the dark for a form of consensus, they dealt with
some vicious attacks from the Userland old guard, and eventually built a
new standard, that encouraged collaboration, but also allowed people to do
their own thing.
And in the meantime blogging took off, the personal publishing phenomena
which is just starting to really catch the mainstreams eye, and has much in commom with
Maff’s Hilights proposal, and Dru’s Open Publishing
proposal, and the idea that the web was a conversation began to be normal
So it seems to me, that to say RSS is a standard maintained by
AOL/Timewarner is incorrect, and uninformed. To insist so violently upon
it smacks of disinformation to me.
On Indymedia we generate 3 RSS feeds, v.9 the Netcenter version, v.91 the
first “userland” flavor developed on the syndication list, and v1.0
hammered out in public, by consensus. The features newswire is uses the
version 1.0 of RSS, though admittedly not for political reasons, but
because its more richly descriptive.