Scripting News for 1/2/2007

If you’re going to be at CES next week, sign in here, and maybe we can do some stuff together. 

Interesting followup to my story about United Airlines.  

Also my story about the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel is on the first page on Google when you search for the hotel. Maybe they’ll change their policy if enough customers ask about it when they’re checking in. 

Five years ago today: When to give away the technology

It’s good to see the music industry realizing that podcasts can be ads for their product.  

Placeblogger is getting links from everywhere. Way to roll out a new service, Lisa. Go go go. 

Brockman’s question 

Every year John Brockman asks a question of the people on his mail list. This year’s question is “What are you optimistic about?” I suppose it’s a cop out to say The Universe. Because no matter how much we fuck this planet of ours, most of the universe is outside our grasp. It’s safe from our despots, our selfishness.

Another thing I’m optimistic about — the afterlife. I believe we have a larger existence than we can comprehend. I believe in my dead uncle’s Church of Non-Functional Probabilities. The other day I was telling a story about my uncle. A few minutes later, when we got out of the car, there was a freakish wild, cold wind. Freezing cold. When we got out of the restaurant, it was warm again. My uncle would say that was proof of god. I am optimistic about that.

I guess I am optimistic about everything that I am not pessimistic about, which is to say almost everything. How’s that John? (BTW, my mail address changed, it’s dave dot winer at gmail dot com.)

RSS wasn’t invented 

In the dustup over Microsoft’s RSS patents, some of the mainstream press brought up, once again, the issue of Who Invented RSS. But RSS doesn’t have an inventor. It wasn’t invented. Something else happened, something harder than invention, imho — an activity that we don’t have a word for in the English language.

First, let’s try to figure out what happened, never mind, for the moment, how it happened.

Today it’s very common for a news oriented site, whether it’s a blog or a newspaper, or a company or government organization, television or radio network, library, candidate, political party, university, sports team, anyone with news and people who are interested in that news, to have a feed. There are quite a few formats, but RSS 2.0 is the most prevalent.

Now, if you were to draw a graph of this phenomenon, plot time on the X-axis and level of adoption on the Y-axis, you’d see a rising function, maybe a few setbacks here and there, but for the most part, every year there was more adoption than the year before.

But during the years that everyone argues about, at the beginning, there wasn’t much upward motion at all. The “invention” of RSS, muddied as it was, by prior art, wasn’t responsible for its uptake. Rather there were several significant moments along the way: support by individual publications, individual bloggers, then blogging tools, then a small number of aggregators and readers, then a few very large publishers, then a flood of publishing and reading tools, followed by a flood of content. And podcasting, which also builds on RSS, helped fuel the fire.

Some of this growth was organic, it was created by previous growth. And other leaps were caused by innovation, new ideas, and some by arm-twisting, or evangelism. It’s in this area that my commitment to RSS was instrumental. If it had been left at the “invention” stage, it would be where many other XML-related technologies are today, invented, but not much-used. Something new was done with the cloud of content, tools, aggregators, and that allowed a lot more people to use it, or hear about it, or decide it was finally time to support it.

RSS, unlike other XML inventions, has made a difference. If you want to understand what made RSS happen, it’s the innovation, evangelism and commitment that was behind it, not the invention, because I said before, and as everyone seems to agree, it wasn’t invented. But we lack a good word for the other stuff, so sheez, what’s the big deal if they substitute “invention” for all that? I’ve looked the other way. But to say I was the “self-proclaimed” inventor is just wrong, I just nod my head when others say it, because I’m tired of arguing.

Anyway, the curve has been going up steadily through 2006, but this coming year I expect to see some setbacks.

Ominously, various publishers and technologists are carving out private spaces, where only their tools can play, or only their special of flavor of RSS is understood. It’s inevitable, it was bound to happen. The interesting question is: Will much light come from the discussion as the new services come public, or will the mud-slinging exemplified by the mainstream press, in the last round of discussion, hide the ideas.

Silos, silos, we don’t need no stinkin silos! 

Doc has given the go-ahead on the open movie rating project as the first Vendor Relationship Management application.

I wrote it up on 9/30/06.

It was made necessary because the two movie services I use the most, Yahoo and Netflix, won’t share my ratings with each other. That’s no good. So I’m going to start from scratch, and create an XML file that lists all the movies I’ve rated with both services.

It’s going to take some doing because they won’t even show me a list of all the movies I’ve rented.

Now that’s evil! 🙂

Postscript: Well, I have to take it back. Netflix does have a way for you to see your previously rated movies. Only in HTML, not in a format that you can export, but at least it’s a start. Still don’t know of a way to see my previous ratings on Yahoo Movies.

Gerry Ford 

I watched a bit of today’s funeral for President Ford.

Like so many people who were alive then, I met Ford myself, when I was an undergrad at Tulane University in 1975. He came to give a speech, and they needed students to sit behind him while he spoke. For some reason I was chosen. He announced that the war in Vietnam was over, as far as the US was concerned.

A story people aren’t telling about Ford is a gaffe in a debate during the 1976 campaign against Jimmy Carter, who would go on to win the presidency. He said: “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” He was given a chance to retract the statement, which was not true, but he didn’t.

Watergate, Nixon, Bush, Edwards 

Sunday’s Meet the Press, which is largely a remembrance of Ford, is worth listening to, for the history of the end of Watergate, a period that rushed by so quickly, a lot of people, including myself, missed the details. My guess is that there wasn’t a deal between Ford and Nixon. At the time I felt the pardon was the right thing to do, and I still do.

Nixon was a bad man, and a worse president, but he was gone and stayed gone, even with the pardon. Losing the presidency and the humiliation that came with it, was punishment enough, and we desperately needed to get together after the 60s, the war, and then Watergate.

Like many others who lived through that period, I am afraid that when we dig through the remains of the Bush presidency, we’ll find that he was an even worse president than Nixon. He made the same mistakes Johnson made, and was even more corrupt than Nixon, if that’s to be believed.

I was struck in the Stephanopoulos interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards, also on Sunday, they said that gay marriage would absolutely not be an issue with their daughter’s generation (she’s 24). Funny how that is, I probably won’t be around to see how that turns out, but I wouldn’t be so sure. The sad part is that we were sure, my generation, that we would never repeat the mistakes that led to Vietnam and Watergate, but we have repeated them. Edwards is just 53, and can make the same claim.

23 responses to this post.

  1. In support of the warnng in the last paragraph on RSS it is worth pointing to the last publisher-led syndication service – ICE, Internet Content Exchange. The specification runs to around 154 pages. Enough said I think.


  2. Posted by Stephane Rodriguez on January 2, 2007 at 11:10 am

    On RSS,

    As much as I’d love to agree with you Dave, I don’t get your point.

    RSS has not succeeded, it miserably failed. The bulk of blogs and news sites don’t use RSS, contrary to what you seem to suggest. Anecdote : does techmeme use RSS? Of course not.

    So pardon me, but what are you talking about?

    Let me remind you two things :
    – Microsoft came up with a stupid OLERSS implementation as we all know by now (I sent you the link to this shortly after IE7 beta went public)
    – When you click a link in a RSS item, it triggers a web page. Meaning, browsing RSS feeds is not doable without a web browser. Since the web page shows well a web page, RSS is completely out of the loop.

    2007 endangered species : Microsoft, Winer.


  3. Stephane: What are you talking about? There are millions of RSS feeds out there. I’m not sure if the 2.0 leads the pack, but it’s still really popular. Your cited example of TechMeme even uses RSS 2.0…

    And what’s wrong with using a web browser to view a web page? Seems like that’s the tool for the job.


  4. Posted by Stephane Rodriguez on January 2, 2007 at 12:20 pm


    I was talking about the techmeme engine, not what’s exposed on the surface.

    As for using a web browser to view a web page, please re-read what I said : I said you have to use a web browser to read a RSS feed, because any link points to a web page, not a RSS feed item. In other words, RSS is not a full round-trip protocol, it lacks something like rss://. A single click, and you’re out of your RSS reader.


  5. RSS is not a full round-trip protocol, it lacks something like rss://.

    Um, no.


  6. Stephane: RSS is simply meant to help automate web browsing so it makes sense to tie in with a browser. But you don’t have to use a web browser to read RSS feeds, I have gone through my feeds at 35,000 feet using only NetNewsWire. Some feeds are headlines only, which may be what you’re getting at, but that still helps accomplish the goal of automatic web browsing.

    RSS is not a round-trip protocol? Whoever said it was? It would be silly to try and make RSS more than what it is, a very simple XML spec that tracks new content from publishers.


  7. Posted by Diego on January 2, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    The world today would be a better place with Nixon in power. That’s how bad Bush is. Note that I didn’t say a perfect or even great place. Just better than it is now.


  8. From Diego’s suggestion regarding putting a dead person in office, it appears he’s either a radical libertarian…or from Chicago.


  9. Rex, maybe he’s from Louisiana, where Huey Long is once said to have declared: “When I die I want to be buried in Louisiana so I can stay active in politics.”


  10. “I said you have to use a web browser to read a RSS feed, because any link points to a web page, not a RSS feed item”

    Not necessarily. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why you can’t use RSS to represent resources not available on the web – or which do not come through a web browser. Podcasts are delivered, for most people, directly in to their podcast aggregator. The primary consumption interface is then a music or video player on the person’s desktop or as a separate device.

    Similarly, you can get RSS feeds which are simply lists of BitTorrent files – the BitTorrent client then reads this list and downloads the linked files. No web browser necessary.

    It doesn’t seem a stretch to have non-web-based resources like RealMedia files, USENET messages, e-mail (there are a number of services which provide receive-only email accounts which deliver the results via RSS), local files, FTP resources etc. There is no restriction in the RSS 2.0 specification that limits resources to being either HTML or HTTP.

    The only way that one can really argue that RSS has been a failure is that not enough people use it. I don’t think that’s a big problem myself. It’d be cool if RSS did become more mainstream, because it might push reluctant publishers in to making feeds available, but we don’t really lose anything if it doesn’t. I still benefit from being able to follow 282 blogs in about a fifth of the time it would take to surf the websites every day even if everybody else is doing it inefficiently.


  11. Posted by Diego on January 2, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    Rex: Nixon, even dead, could do a better job than Bush. 🙂

    No, I just think that Bush is just /that/ bad.


  12. Posted by Pete on January 2, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    As a consumer I would really welcome an open movie rating system and I am working on a project now that could entertain such a system.

    Dave Winer: “Doc has given the go-ahead on the open movie rating project as the first Vendor Relationship Management application.”

    Did I miss something? I can’t find an explicit reference to this in the post or anywhere else in Doc’s blog for that matter?

    — pete


  13. Posted by Stephane Rodriguez on January 2, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Jon Gales said “RSS is simply meant to help automate web browsing so it makes sense to tie in with a browser. But you don’t have to use a web browser to read RSS feeds, I have gone through my feeds at 35,000 feet using only NetNewsWire.”

    You don’t see the difference? Well, if you have to consume a real web page instead of a feed item, then you are back to square one and have to bear with all the crap that the publisher of the web page wants you to see (ads, …)

    RSS was supposed to fix that. RSS clients (I don’t mean desktop clients) were supposed to be the new online world. But how do you achieve that when the feed item content makes it de facto a non-starter just because you put a “web” link in it, instead of a feed item link ?

    Jon Gales said “Some feeds are headlines only, which may be what you’re getting at, but that still helps accomplish the goal of automatic web browsing.”

    That’s not my point at all.


  14. Posted by Stephane Rodriguez on January 2, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    Tom Morris said “I still benefit from being able to follow 282 blogs in about a fifth of the time it would take to surf the websites every day even if everybody else is doing it inefficiently.”

    Cool, I think you missed my point.

    Let me repeat again : in 99% of cases out there, a link in a feed item is a link to a web page. Thus you are forced to consume a real web page (ads, …) if you click a link, not the actual (or real-time constructed) feed item under that link.

    I say “99% of cases” because that is true that you can have enclosures of all kinds, such as MP3 files. But that’s not my point.

    Since the feed protocol is not self-sustained, it allows links to web pages which disrupts your navigation flow, it is no concidence that 1) nobody uses RSS statiscally speaking 2) nobody uses RSS-only 3) nobody can make full round-trip navigation flows using RSS alone 4) most blogs don’t have have a RSS feed, nor should they.

    Best examples : Google core, techmeme, …, engines don’t use RSS at all.


  15. Please continue this discussion on your blog, thanks.


  16. I keep forgetting to post that — the password is “hotpasta”.


  17. On my Netflix account I have 3334 ratings. No easy task to get “my” information out of there as you have found. I would love to test out whatever scriptfu you develop and place my ratings onto this VRM site you and Doc are developing.

    As a side note, I would think that if we rate movies on this VRM site, will it automagically update the ratings on Netflix, or other movie sites which are linked to our account?


  18. Hey Dave… Skipping that slipping-off-topic discussion, I wanted to say thanks for the nice summary of RSS origins. Let’s see whether any reporters get the message the next time the subject comes up and say “RSS innovator and most committed evangelist…”
    When you put it that way, it’s… uhm… really simple. 🙂
    Happy new year!


  19. Posted by vanni on January 3, 2007 at 9:28 am

    Re: Ford – The Globe reported on the gaffe

    And, of course, it was Gerald Ford who made the assertion in the 1976 presidential debates with Jimmy Carter that Eastern Europe was not dominated by communism. This was news to anyone with even a fleeting acquaintance with the previous three decades of history.


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