Archive for August 14th, 2005

RSS as brand

Branding specific features: “RSS feeds” versus “web feeds”

Robert Scoble
(plus note at the end of this post) and Dave
(includes podcast) have been having a discussion about big company support for the RSS

Dave says that big companies should support the RSS brand because it
has a history, a meaning, a heritage, a powerful developer communty and
wide support among users.  Dave is concerned about possible moves
Microsoft and/or Google to drop the “RSS” in RSS feeds in favor of “web
feeds” or something similar.

Robert Scoble gives a defense of Microsoft doing user research and considering substituting “web
feeds” for “RSS feeds” but in a different post Scoble also says he personally favors the term RSS. 

Scoble further points to a post by Mike Torres of the
MSN Spaces team detailing the many ways Microsoft is currently promoting the RSS

The good news in technology is that big companies including Google,
Microsoft and Yahoo are supporting the broader RSS
community.   The working relationships among large and small
are much more complementary in technology than in farming. Big companies encourage good relations when they support RSS
and “RSS feeds” as the branding for the ecological space that they re benefiting from.

That said, it probably does
not matter what big companies name their feeds. The name “RSS feeds”
already has what seems to be unassailable traction.  Here is a
little experiment I just did with Google.

I typed in “RSS feeds” and got the following search results:

78,800,000 for “RSS feeds. (0.24 seconds)

Then I typed in “web feeds” and got only

380,000 for web feeds. (0.30 seconds)

I doubt if any company can change the RSS feeds branding now. 
Kleenex may have seemed strange at first, but it got traction. 
“Facial tissues,” anyone?. I would doubt the wisdom of a company that
chose to name its RSS feeds anything that did not include RSS in the
name. In fact, the great thing about the RSS brand, from a company’s
point of view, is that it is not trademarked and that any company can call its feeds RSS.

RSS as a mega brand, as in the “RSS space”

“RSS feeds” is just a part of what is happening to RSS as a
brand..  RSS has become a technology super brand or mega
brand.  It is
the name of a “space”–as in “the RSS space” and an economic industry
or ecosystem, as in “the RSS ecosystem.” It is a way  of talking
companies, as in “RSS-enabled companies.”  David Kirkpatrick’s
story in Fortune this weekend is entitled “Cashing in on RSS” and says “new RSS-centric companies are emerging all the time.

RSS is becoming the foundation of a new industry–indeed, perhaps
of several new industries.  When technologies become enablers of
new industries, they don’t just become popular, they change the world.  What begins as a technology becomes an approach, a way of transforming
Consider personal computing, which went from being something that
hobbyists did, to being a movement that continues to radically alter
the face of world society.  

When a technology becomes transformational, society needs
a term for the resulting revolution.  Usually people find it
most convenient to take the name of the technology and generalize it,
applying it to the revolution.  Personal computeers become “the
personal computer revolution”–a term that refers to the computer and
to the people, the companies, the visions that transform society.

This process happens over and over in technology.  Each time a
word or phrase with a narrow meaning comes to symbolize a broader path
to social change.  Does anyone remember why Internet is
capitalized?  Because at one
time it was a narrow proper noun that meant a particular set of servers
that had been linked together in a specific way, and funded by the US
government for research purposes..  Now Internet has such a very
general meaning that many of us–me included, hate to capitalize
it.  “Internet” the proper noun has become “internet” the
adjective.  Internet as adjective has one of the most evocative
and broad meanings in modern language, as in “the internet space,”
“internet company,” “internet entreprenuers.”

WWW has undergone semantic and social broadening. “The World Wide Web”
used to refer to a specific way of linking sites together on the
internet.  Now we just talk about the web.

.Com also has had its evolution, with even more ups and downs. 
.Com used to refer very specifically to the suffix appended to the
Internet (capitalized) addresses of commercial companies that had been
given permission to use, somewhat illegitimately, a network that had
previously been the exclusive province of small groups of researchers
in government or holding government contracts.  .Com of course
came to be used for dotcom entrepreneurs, dotcom companies, dotcom
investments, and the dotcom crash.

XML had its day, and that day was more than a decade ago.  It
started out meaning “EXtensible Markup Language” and became a W3C
Recommendation 10. February 1998. This confirmed its narrow meaning.
But during the same time it had come to mean something much more
important:  It had become a widely adopted way for differing
systems to be connected, and as such it became the central way to
integrate business processes.  Whole industries, e.g. automotive,
took on the task of making their own dialects of XML so that
cross-departmental and cross-company processes could be
integrated.  XML became a movement, albeit not among the public, but across several key industries.

The RSS era

Today, RSS is having its day.  What started out as dialect of XML
designed to enable a populist publishing platform, RSS has come
to mean a powerful and very general approach to making and linking
together services across the web.  A worldwide community of users
has become fascinated with making and linking together services 
Because the services are loosely typed and use very simple inputs and
outputs, usually RSS plus URLs, because the services are open and easy
to link together, and because there is no preconceived framework within
which services must fit, a wild ecosystem of developer and user
creativity is rapidly proliferating across the information and
communication landscape.

There are as many possible names for this new ecosystem as there are
participants, which puts the number in the millions.  The name
that is sticking is simply “RSS.” RSS is the term the public is using. 
It has the advantage of being
catchy, and of conveying two ideas that are close to the heart of the
movement: simplicity and sharing.

Linguistic philosophers are fond of pointing out that the meaning of a
published work of art, such as a text, is not what the artist intended
but what the public, the appreciators, experience.  It is hard to imagine undoing the momentum of RSS at this
time, particularly across the public as a whole.  We are already
at the “oh yea, RSS, I’ve heard of that” stage.  We are probably
beyond the tipping point. (See Richard McManus on this point). 

Alternatives to RSS?  Web 2.0, XML?

It is difficult to imagine a viable
alternative.  Short of a major company investing in an
alternative, it seems the die is cast.  In ay case, what would be
the business case for promoting an alternative?  As
pointed out above, the brand is freely available, so no company is

Some argue for Web 2.0, but it has zero traction with
the public, and doesn’t communicate much in any case.  It
says “new” but not “what.”  It speaks for no heritage, it has no
historical narrative, no compelling founding story, no edge..

Compare Google search results for the very broad “Web 2.0” with “RSS”
variations at several levels of generality.  This test was done
this afternoon Sunday, August
14, 2005
at 7:40 PM EST.  All of the searches were conducted with
marks around the search terms, to reduce false positives.  Note
RSS is never less than ten times more widely used than Web 2.0, and
that is a comparison to the most specific version of RSS, the narrow
term RSS 2.0.
For the most appropriate and general comparison, pitting Web 2.0
against RSS, RSS scores 150 times
and 279 million results higher.

299,000,000 for “”RSS””. (0.17 seconds)

for “RSS feeds. (0.24 seconds)

19,200,000 for “RSS 2.0”. (0.23 seconds)


1,910,000 for web 2.0″. (0.29 seconds)

Some argue for “XML” as the term for the movement..  Interestingly, despite XML having
been in wide use as a technology for longer than RSS, it does not have
as many notices in Google as RSS.

299,000,000 for “”RSS””. (0.17 seconds)


208,000,000 for xml [definition]. (0.34 seconds)

More important,  XML has all the wrong connotations.


Translation        Really Simple
eXtensible Markup Language

Connotation      Blogs, hip,
CIOs, industries, databases

Community       Global,
Large industries, closed clubs

Participation      The public, diy
Developers, CIOs

Style of
with which
associated         Scripting,
Format conversion, back office

in business         Media
companies, new           
      Industrial companies
(Yahoo, MSN, Google)
old (NY Times, BBC,
med (MTV)

Process reengineering

Look this over and tell me which side is driving the most important
web services revolution of our time.  Let us align
ourselves in name as well as efforts with our own revolution. Take the name that is most powerful as a
rallying cry.

Practical branding for the RSS movement

Go with the river.

Use “RSS” as the title of the movement to develop open, loosely-typed, planetary web superservices.

Use “RSS Feeds” as the general term for feed sources in any format, for
whatever purposes, as is appropriate to help the user find what she
wants and no what to do with what she finds.

Anticipate that the family of RSS applications will continue to expand,
from news, to podcasting, to tv, to financial and sports data (lists),
and we need an extensible convention for the buttons we are going to
put on our sites.

The buttons could focus on what the user is looking for, and the
benefit the user may receive.  The buttons should not focus on the
specific technical format and file types employed.  User
subscription software should be able to consume any format and
automatically handle it appropriately.  The technical format is
not needed by the user if the machines do their work.

Thus, develop specific buttons for the various types of RSS and
RSS-related files, and put these in an outline directory under the
heading of RSS Feeds.  Thus we can imagine RSS 2.0 being used for
news, RSS with lists for scores, RSS with enclosures and/or OPML with
enclosures for podcasts, RSS with enclosures for IPtv, and OPML, for
playlists.  Here then is how this rich array of content might be
made available on the right hand margin of a website, in a kind of an
RSS feeds blogroll–a feedroll or feed directory.

RSS Feeds:


August 14th, 2005

Mark Sigal on the generalization and creative expansion of the RSS style of programming web services

Mark Sigal gets the generalization of RSS, in this article


RSS as a Web 2.0 platform

RSS began its life as a really simple way for content providers to
syndicate their content and for content consumers to subscribe to their
favorite providers. When the blogosphere emerged, RSS really took off.
Now, just as its “simple” technology cousin, HTML, provided the
underpinnings of the Web 1.0 technology platform, RSS is emerging as a
platform for delivering the broadband and mobile ready applications of
a Web 2.0 enabled world.

From this vantage point, RSS evolves beyond simple publish and
subscribe to become more akin to web services. The concept of a feed is
extended to support both a diverse range of data and content types, and
feeds can contain rich “payloads.” Furthermore, feeds gain the ability
to expose well-formed methods providing the intelligent “glue logic”
for building loosely coupled applications. Backed by two application
examples, this blog presents a thesis of the key moving parts integral
to the RSS platform and how they come together. (Note: this is a
continuation of an earlier O’Reilly blog that I wrote and postings on my digital media blog, The Network Garden.) 

My only slight quibble with this excellent article is that I think it
is time to leave behind “Web 2.0.”  It has never meant anything
very specific–it is too broad a tent, like “next big thing” only less
specific.  Hard to rally the troops to support something so broad,
and hard to explain to users, whether business users or home
users..  The defacto name for the next generation of RSS-inspired
services and service scripting is already “RSS.” Might as well embrace

August 14th, 2005

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