December 11, 2006
@ 02:03 PM

Edd Dumbill has a blog post entitled Afraid of the POX? where he writes

The other day I had was tinkering with that cute little poster child of Web 2.0, Flickr. Looking for a lightweight way to incorporate some photos into a web site, I headed to their feeds page to find some XML to use.
The result was interesting. Flickr have a variety of outputs in RSS dialects, but you just can't get at the raw data using XML. The bookmarking service is another case in point. My friend Matt Biddulph recently had to resort to screenscraping in order to write his tag stemmer, until some kind soul pointed out there's a JSON feed.

Both of these services support XML output, but only with the semantics crammed awkwardly into RSS or Atom. Neither have plain XML, but do support serialization via other formats. We don't really have "XML on the Web". We have RSS on the web, plus a bunch of mostly JSON and YAML for those who didn't care for pointy brackets.

Interesting set of conclusions but unfortunately based on faulty data. Flickr provides custom XML output from their Plain Old XML over HTTP APIs at as does from its API at If anything, this seems to indicate that old school XML heads like Edd have a different set of vocabulary from the Web developer crowd. It seems Edd did searches for "XML feeds" from these sites then came off irritated that the data was in RSS/Atom and not custom XML formats. However once you do a search for "API" with the appropriate service name, you find their POX/HTTP APIs which provide custom XML output.

The morale of this story is that "XML feeds" pretty much means RSS/Atom feeds these days and is not a generic term for XML being provided by a website.

PS: This should really be a comment on Edd's blog but it doesn't look like his blog supports comment.

Monday, 11 December 2006 15:32:53 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Flickr's XML is behind their API access, which for me means it's not really part of the published web. I added a "public consumption" clarification to my blog post.

I guess my point that XML is seen as a web service thing, not a publication thing.
Monday, 11 December 2006 15:42:13 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
As long as you're calling out different tech cultures, I'd suggest that "Web developers" don't tend to seek out APIs, except for a relatively small bleeding-edge mashup crowd.

"Programmers" tend to be the folks comfortable with APIs.

And that, of course, leads into another set of questions about XML usage patterns.
Monday, 11 December 2006 17:05:04 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I don't think XML on the Web has even been successful as a publication thing. Even RSS seems more like Web service than publication to me.
Monday, 11 December 2006 20:29:11 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
This is interesting. Edd and Simon are good colleagues of mine, but the sharpest point on which we've recently disagreed is exactly the one playing out in this blog/comment sequence.

I agree with Dare that Flickr's and's approach to XML is a sign of success and not failure for XML. I agree that XML on the Web has not succeeded from a publication POV, but I don't believe it ever needed to. As long as it's available, it's available, and it shouldn't matter if it requires an additional step. That's still a huge leap from the days of completely invisible and proprietary source data.

I also don't have a problem with having the XML access point being called an "API". If anything, I think it's healthy that programmers get to see an API as a data access point, rather than just a twiddle button for encapsulated functionality.
Monday, 11 December 2006 20:33:01 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Not sure about Flickr and Delicious but I would agree that it's weird that so many non-blog APIs are RSS/Atom-like.
Tuesday, 12 December 2006 08:20:03 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
The delicious APIs are incomplete - the JSON feeds/apis support features which are unsupported by the official APIs.
Comments are closed.