The world is my rss feed

Posted by Thomas Sun, 18 Jan 2009 00:01:05 +0000

I don’t really get some of the current movement to open the borders between the current glut of the web’s social apps. From what I’ve seen, most federation revolves around me being able to use, say, my Facebook profile to interact with my friends on Myspace. I don’t get that — I don’t grok it. Standards have, of course, been the reason why the internet works, and why you can send email from a yahoo account to a gmail account. And that’s all well and good, and if you can get that to work, then I guess I’ll applaud your achievement.

But at the end of the day, you still have all of your data in commercial silos, where they want to own the data you’ve inputted, all of your relationships to your friends, your photos, your videos, basically any content you create on their site. I find great offense at that.

One thing that I’ve learned over the past several years is that creating change is hard, and usually virtually impossible. Getting these different commercial entities to agree on common interoperability standards must be analogous to an act of congress, as well as getting them to maintain that interoperability, in light of a quickly changing web 2.0 landscape.

Which is why I’ve grown to understand why papa Goog used rss and atom as the basis for their gdata api. I think that more often than not, black swans will leap out at you and dominate the landscape. I would classify the success of http and rss as one of these. I doubt if they tried again, that they would receive the same amount of adoption. Take ipv6 as an example of a technology that’s good, but hasn’t yet received widespread adoption, even in light of the dire consequences of non-adoption.

Which is why, if I had my way, I’d just stand on the shoulders of the http and rss giants to achieve my open, social web (not to be confused with opensocial). As I’ve mentioned before, it seems to me that if sites were to publish rss feeds of everything, that an aggregator app would be able to scrape these feeds to get a complete view of the world. Why do I need to build this complex interoperability, this ability from my facebook account to post on your myspace, when honestly all we want are common data apis?

Given: Everyone has an openid uri, and associates it with every social web app they use.
Given: I am able to get comments and entity feeds of everything that’s basically “posted” online.
Given: I publish a list of all of my friends by their openid (read: foaf).

Use case:
Marc posts an new photo on Flickr. I log into flickr with my openid, and post a comment on this new pic. My personal aggregator crawls Flickr, getting all of the new pics that all of my friends have posted, and all of the comments that they’ve made recently. Give these two sets of data, you can then go back to flickr to find additional supplemental data surrounding the original data. Given that rss/atom feeds are standard, and that additional xml namespaces are standards as well, it should be reasonable to, given the “type” of feed, to present all of this data in an attractive way, analogous to Friendfeed. You have, then, all of the comments that your friends have made on flickr recently (in context with the actual picture), and vice versa for your friends’ photos (and subsequently those photos comments). This extends to anything you post because everything is an “entry”. The only thing that’s left is how you’d like to present your data. Digg has already started a de facto standard for how to tell a third party what the thumbnail should be for an arbitrary web page, and I think rss and atom have had support for this for quite some time.

If the presentation is left as an exercise to the user, and the original feeds expose enough information for third parties to then, say, post new comments to an entry, then you are able to get away from Friendfeed’s current model of having comments on Friendfeed, instead of where the probably should be, which is the site of the original entry’s content. Why on earth would you want to have two entirely separate sets of comments about a single photo on flickr? In allowing people to comment or favorite Flickr entries on Friendfeed, Friendfeed itself becomes a walled garden. What do I use to aggregate what amounts to original content on Friendfeed?

Anyway, I guess the actionstream project does this to some degree, and they are thinking a lot about it, and they say that 2009 will be a great year, and while I hope they’re right, I won’t be holding my breath.

Posted in Technology | 1 Comment


  1. Ben said on April 7, 2009 @ 1:06 am:

    Fascinating stuff to think about! I sure wish they’d come out with Web 2.1! Beta? Alpha? Anything? I’ve never really used very many social sites, and am just entering into that area of the internet. But I did notice long ago what you were talking about with the comments to the post, not the original item — how dumb is that! I worry that perhaps by participating in it I might be facilitating and encouraging that type of behavior. But what choice do we have? Write emails and always click on the “feedback” links?

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