I stopped paying attention to the syndication wars a couple of months ago. I barely have time to stay on top of all the stuff I have to worry about as part of my day job let alone keeping track of the pointlessness that is the Atom vs. RSS debate. Unfortunately, every once in a while something happens that forces me to pay attention because I'm also the project lead for RSS Bandit.

One cool thing about XML syndication formats like RSS and Atom is that they are easily extensible. This means that anyone can come up with a new extension to the RSS/Atom formats which adds a new feature but is ignored by feed readers that don't understand the extension. Some of my favorite extensions are slash:comments which provides a count of the number of comments in a feed and wfw:commentRss which provides the URL to the feed for the comments to a blog post in the feed. One of my work items for the next version of RSS Bandit is to make it easier for people to 'watch' the comments for a blog post they are interested in if it supports these extensions. That way I can get get a notification everytime some comment thread I am interested in gets new posts directly from my aggregator instead of using other tools like CoComment.

A few days ago Sam Ruby posted an entry entitled Rogers Switches! where he mentioned that he now redirects all requests for his RSS feeds to his Atom feed. This meant that in RSS Bandit I now no longer see the comment count for the blog posts in Sam's feed nor can I view the comments to his posts directly within my aggregator. Sam and I had the following exchange in his blog comments when I discovered the ramifications of his change

I was trying to figure out if I’d introduced a bug in RSS Bandit to make your comment count and inline comments disappear. Instead, it seems you have made your feed less useful as part of the fallout of yet another iteration of the eternal pissing match which is the XML syndication wars.


Posted by Dare Obasanjo at 20:25

Dare, is this is your way of saying that you don’t intend to support the Feed Thread Extension?  I’d think that you would be on the watch for it.

Posted by Sam Ruby at 22:08

I looked at the draft of the Feed Thread Extension specification Sam linked to and it seems like a reinvention of the functionality provided by the slash:comments, wfw:commentRss and annotate:reference extensions. Great, not only do we now have to deal with the an increase in the number of competing XML syndication formats due to the Atom process ...By the way, have you seen the Atom 0.3 vs. Atom 1.0 debate? I told you so... we now also have to deal with duplicates of all the popular RSS extensions as well? Give me a break!

That said, you can expect support for these new extensions in the next version of RSS Bandit. At the end of the day, what matters is building useful software for our users regardless of how many petty annoyances are thrown in our way on the road there.


Categories: RSS Bandit | Syndication Technology
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Tuesday, April 4, 2006 7:24:28 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
One point to keep in mind... in the next rev of the spec (hopefully to be delivered in the next couple of weeks).. the in-reply-to element's 'id' attribute will be renamed to 'ref' per feedback received on the Atom syntax mailing list.
Tuesday, April 4, 2006 8:37:17 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I'm sure you're probably aware of this already, but in case you aren't, bare in mind that wfw:commentRss has been at times documented as wfw:commentRSS (note the difference in case). I believe Wordpress is one of the generators that uses this alternate syntax (check out Robert Scoble's blog for an example).

As for your comments about the Feed Thread Extensions not being necessary, I suppose technically you're right. You could probably get by hacking together various other modules (what would that be - four namespaces?), but it'd be one horrible hack. For many people that isn't a problem, but personally I'd prefer a single extension in a single namespace, that is clearly defined, and maybe just a little bit more elegant.
James Holderness
Tuesday, April 4, 2006 9:16:27 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I honestly have no idea why they bothered. If offered the choice, I pick RSS 2.0 over any flavour of Atom. I use FeedBurner to turn my Blogger site's Atom-only feed into an RSS feed (they actually have some kind of content-negotiation going on), and have edited my template to only offer the FeedBurner feed for autodiscovery. For me, RSS 2.0 works well enough, even though there are some compatibility issues.

If the people involved had really cared, they would have tried to standardise existing practice and offered extensions to RSS 2.0 (a 'type' attribute on 'title' for example, to fix the 'is there HTML here?' problem). There's a time and a place for cleanroom implementations, and this was not it.
Tuesday, April 4, 2006 10:17:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"If the people involved had really cared, they would have tried to standardise existing practice and offered extensions to RSS 2.0"

I suspect this was attempted, but Atom goes beyond being a simple aggregation format, it also has publishing and provides a slightly more complete all-round solution (although I don't actually use it).
Tuesday, April 4, 2006 11:06:31 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
> If the people involved had really cared, they would have tried to standardise existing practice and offered extensions to RSS 2.0 (a 'type' attribute on 'title' for example, to fix the 'is there HTML here?' problem).

You must be new here.
Wednesday, April 5, 2006 12:31:09 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"Clean up the RSS 0.94 specification by doing light edits and removing the type attribute for description. I feel at this time that it is a mistake to add confusion to the all-important description element. Thanks to Sam Ruby for pushing this."


Comments are closed.