RSS… The New HTML?

Recently everyone seems to be going mad for RSS. A search engine, countless articles and flamewars about RSS, RSS2, (n)Echo (or whatever the next gen version of RSS will be called) and of course it’s whole attachment to the newly in vogue blogging phenomenon.

Basically it’s a way of defining data in a structured way, and then the reader, whether a web page, a news aggregator, or whatever, presents the data in a way that it decides is best. Depending on the reader the end presentation may use the data exactly as the author gave it, with images linked in and the full article, or it might be taken more as a suggestion, say if you’re reading it via email, where it would have links and HTML stripped out.

Remind anyone of anything?

That’s right, HTML! Back in the old days, HTML was a markup language that was a suggestion to the reader (browser) on how to present the information (webpage). Then graphical artist types decided that they had to define absolutely how the webpage would look to the user, and put in methods to check what reader (browser) they were reading with and denying access if they had a certain version, or redirecting to a different page with markup that worked properly in the detected version of the reader (browser). HTML went from a way of transmitting information to a way of transmitting page layout, something that PostScript and PDFs and TeX do much much better.

Right now RSS is made up of XML, which by definition has no uhm… definition… on how it is presented. It’s like we’re back in 1994 man, it’s groovy, everyone can do their own thing man…. it’s like, trippin’, dude. Your RSS reader, regardless of what it is can get RSS data and show it to you in any way it pleases, using the authors original setup as an absolute or a vague suggestion. How long is that going to last?

I wonder how long before the design and presentation minded folks start trying to make it so that their RSS feeds are only presented to the user exactly as they want them to be. Scoff if you will, I’ll bet in 1994 they said the same thing. “No one would ever do that.” There are still websites that I can’t go to now without the browser that the website author decided was needed to view it with, even a “modern” browser. Website authors are locking out “older” (4.x) browsers because they can’t imagine their pages presented to users rendered by that browser. Not all of this is bad though, standards are good, separation of layout and data via CSS, etc are all good and make the browsing experience better. The idea of a “markup” language is still mostly lost however, as you can see anytime you browse the web in a a text based browser though.

How long will it take before you can’t read your RSS feeds on anything you want to? I give it a year. I could be completely wrong and offbase, or smoking crack of course, but it’s just a thought.

2 Comments on “RSS… The New HTML?”

  1. It’s already like that, but this time we get to blame the developers. RSS 0.91 is pretty much crap from what I’ve heard, but it’s prevalent.
    RSS 1.0 / 2.0 isn’t much better, and is tightly controlled by Dave Winer. It’s also not compatible with RSS 0.91 and isn’t an open standard.
    necho is aiming to create an open syndication format… but they’re taking their sweet time to do it.
    In a way, it’s ironic. The very people who previously bitched about how designers were misusing HTML are now doing the same thing themselves — creating proprietary, closed formats.