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What Is RSS?

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  1. Introduction
  2. RSS Forks: RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0
  3. After the Fork
  4. RSS Grows Up
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RSS Forks: RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0

The proponents of a new set of extensions wanted RSS to become more a part of the overall concept of the semantic web, using the World Wide Web Consortium's proposal for the Resource Description Framework (RDF) to become the new basis for RSS. RDF was basically a new extensible framework for describing and exchanging metadata.

To understand why such a move was considered so controversial, you'll need a little more background about RDF and its place in web development circa 2000. When Tim Berners-Lee unveiled the concept of the "semantic web," in which computers would be able to intelligently exchange information about documents and make decisions based on those exchanges, the proposal was met with some skepticism. As a result, RDF, which was seen as the core of this new concept, was seen as largely an academic effort with little or no value in the commercial space.

One of the most contentious issues surrounding RDF was the concept of namespaces. With a namespace, you could create a particular type of XML definition, using those definitions in an embedded fashion just by naming them. For example, let's assume that I wanted to create my own XML language. I could start the document as follows:

<XML xmlns:tristan="http://www.tnl.net/tristan.dtd">

This statement basically says that we have an XML document using an XML namespace (xmlns); in this namespace, if a tag begins with tristan: the program should look at the tristan language defined by the document located at http://www.tnl.net/tristan.dtd.

Using this model, the authors of the new RSS 1.0 specification could extend RSS into a format that could do more than just distribute data. However, doing so kept the new specification from being backwardly compatible with previous versions, and made it more complicated to implement. This didn't sit well with Dave Winer—who, as the only remaining author still working with RSS, had babysat the specification for years and felt that its magic came from its simplicity.

Over the next few months, battles erupted on several mailing lists, including the main Yahoo! Groups where such things are discussed: xml-dev (the syndication mailing list) and rss-dev. At issue was whether RSS 1.0 should still be called RSS, because it no longer worked with other formats.

Attempting to bring some of the advantages of the new format into something that would not be as complex and would still be backwardly compatible, Dave Winer authored RSS 2.0 and presented it to the community in August 2002, as part of a new set of offerings in Radio UserLand. By naming the new standard RSS 2.0, Winer raised the ire of the RSS 1.0 community. The new format was seen by those developers as being incompatible with RSS 1.0 (which itself is incompatible with previous versions), and the naming would confuse users looking to implement the new format.

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