November 9, 2004
@ 01:28 PM

A recent post entitled Finally, a Use for Atom by Charles Miller got me thinking about the usefulness or lack thereof of the IETF Atom effort. It seems I wasn't the only one who started thinking this given a mail thread started by Tim Bray on the atom-syntax list entitled Posted PaceDeclareVictoryOnFormat where he writes

To: Atom WG <atom-syntax@xxxxxxx>
Subject: Posted PaceDeclareVictoryOnFormat
From: Tim Bray <Tim.Bray@xxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 08 Nov 2004 14:13:17 -0800


The world can use Atom, sooner rather than later. The return-on-investment of further WG time invested in polishing something that's already pretty good is starting to be very unattractive. Particularly when the Protocol draft seriously needs work and progress.

Note that this has not been formally placed at the front of the queue yet. -Tim

I posted some comments to the thread that reflect the same opinions from my post Mr. Safe's Guide to the RSS vs. ATOM debate, the relationship between the Atom syndication format and RSS is the same as that of XHTML and HTML; geeks will like it but there's no real concrete reason to use it over the old stuff that already works pretty well for the most part.

However I also reiterated that I think the Atom API is a worthwhile addition to the world of blogging technologies. I listed the problems with the current crop of blog posting APIs such as the Blogger API and MetaWeblog API in my post What's Wrong with the MetaWeblog API? from a year and a half ago

Security: The MetaWeblog API has no concept of security. Passwords are sent in plaintext as parameters to XML-RPC functions (i.e. they are sent in plain text on the wire as part of the XML message).

Strongly Coupled To XML-RPC: RSS and Joe Gregorio's CommentAPI have shown that one can build applications that retrieve and send XML documents from client to server directly using HTTP GET and POST instead of going through an added layer of indirection by using exlicit RPC mechanisms.
I also believe that there should be the API should not just be tied to XML-RPC but should have interfaces that utilize the XML Web Services family of technologies like SOAP and WSDL not just XML-RPC. There are many products and toolkits that support SOAP/WSDL/etc plus more are being built every day. It makes little sense to me that almost everywhere else in the software industry people are either exchanging XML documents using RESTian principles (i.e. HTTP GET and POST) or the XML Web Services family of technologies but when it comes to web content related technologies there is this anachronism where an arbitrarily different methodology is used.

Limited Functionality: The MetaWeblog API only allows one to either post and edit blog entries, fetch information about a specific user or change the website template. This is a drop in the bucket considering all the things one would like to do with a weblog engine which can be supported by the engine.

As time has passed some of my opinions on this matter have mellowed. Security is a big problem and one I don't think can be ignored. The fact that existing APIs depend on XML-RPC instead of more accepted industry practices such as using RESTian principles or SOAP+WSDL isn't that great but it isn't that big a deal. The issue of limited functionality is probably something that has to be lived with since for the API to be widely adopted it has to support a lowest common denominator of features. As long as the API can be extended then the fact that there isn't some functionality in the core isn't that bad.

So for me, the high order bit is security. I can see at least two ways to solve this problem listed in order of least disruptive to most disruptive

  1. Blog editing tools and blog vendors moving towards using XML-RPC over HTTPS/SSL or at least use digest HTTP authentication instead of HTTP.
  2. Blog editing tools and blog vendors moving towards using the Atom API over HTTPS/SSL or at least use digest HTTP authentication instead of HTTP.

A number of blog hosting services such as Blogger/Google and SixApart have moved towards doing (2) above. However it is unclear to me how much this has been embraced by builders of popular blog editing tools such as BlogJet and w::bloggar. Looking at the list of Atom Enabled client software I only see aggregators listed but not blog editing tools.

So I was curious, are there any major blog editing tools that support the Atom API? If not, do these tools support using the Blogger/MetaWeblog API over HTTPS/SSL? If not, is there any interest in doing the former or the latter any time soon?