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   RSS beyond the Blog: 1992 or 1999? - was Re: [xml-dev] hurry GenX...

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> http://www.linuxworld.com.au/index.php/id;1044711497;fp;2;fpid;1

Sorry if this is a bit off topic (now that we've actually been 
discussing xml development for a change...)

'"I would like to have an RSS feed to my bank account, my credit card, 
and my stock portfolio," he said.
  "Anybody who has gone very far into this is starting to get very 
excited," he said of the RSS phenomenon. "It's starting to feel like 
1992 or 1993, when this Web thing was starting to stick its head out."'

Hmm, RSS feeds for credit card statements sounds more like a 1999 
(internet bubble) idea than a 1992 (Web hitting critical mass) idea to 
me. Let's think about why does RSS (all flavors, including Atom, and 
including the infrastructure of HTTP and aggregators, not just the text 
format) works so well to track news feeds and weblogs, then see what 
that implies for bank accounts and credit cards:

- It hits the 80/20 point dead on.  It's so simple you don't even need 
agreement on much of anything except an approximate template for what a 
news item looks like, and the news industry has evolved a pretty good 
one over the years.  Details about what to name tags, which date 
formats to support, can be argued over forever, but all permutations 
can be supported in code with relatively little trouble.

- It scales by exploiting the Web architecture and the power law 
phenomenon.  Popular feeds are cached in servers, intermediaries, 
mirrors, etc. using exactly the same technologies used to support 
popular websites.

- It ultimately contains human-readable text; all ambiguities about 
what, where, when, why, how in the content or metadata are resolved by 
the human reader.

- Father Darwin performs his brutal magic -- hacks that work evolve 
into best practice, and ultimately (IETF willing) get standardized;  
those that don't work  die quietly.

Yep, that sounds a LOT like 1992 to me.  It has created an 
infrastructure of polling aggregators that has created a critical mass, 
so lots of things that used to be done with mailing lists can now be 
done quite nicely as RSS feeds to get information to interested parties 
quickly and efficiently.  The problem I have is in trying to make this 
work as a universal pub-sub system: The things that make RSS et al a 
winner for casual, public text make it a loser for critical, personal 

- 80% of the capability/reliability doesn't cut it. If I miss an news 
flash about the latest horrors out of Iraq or Washington, or an update 
to my favorite weblog, c'est la vie.  If someone is draining my bank 
account I want to *know* that reliably and immediately by a credible 
and authoritative mechanism, not an 80/20 solution.  (Given Len's line 
of work, this is probably why he's so vehement about Mr. Pareto's 

- It's not going to scale if I'm the only consumer of a "feed."  A bank 
isn't going to appreciate having all their customers ping them every 
few minutes to see if anything changed, and Bloglines won't help unless 
there are lots of people subscribing to a given feed.

- It contains data, and the machine processing it will need to have 
"intelligence" that is beyond the state of the art to resolve 
ambiguities, or it had better match an authoritative standard that 
stupid machines can easily map  onto existing application semantics.  
Anyone who thinks that there are likely to be authoritative standards 
here doesn't follow the RSS 0.91 / 1.0 / 2.0 / Atom discussions, or the 
somewhat more genteel standards warfare going on in the Web Services 

- Father Darwin (well his alter ego the Invisible Hand) will indeed 
whack the un-successful, but not before a new generation of Enronesque 
scammers and pill-purveying spammers do their worst.  The consequences 
of failure when real money and confidential information are at stake 
are vastly worse than missing an update to a favorite weblog or the 
latest horror stories from Iraq or Washington.

I'm all for leveraging XML and the Web out of the box for things that 
it is well-suited for (and the current RSS ecology is one of them).  I 
get nervous when bubbles start inflating.  In 20:20 hindsight, it was 
obvious that the Web is a far better place to sell books and run 
auctions than it is a place to sell petfood or groceries. I hope we can 
apply some 20:20 foresight  here and figure out an *appropriate* 
combination of XML+HTTP, whichever Web services specs that actually do 
something useful, and the real world enterprise infrastructure that can 
be applied to the opportunities  that Tim mentions.

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