Daniel Steinberg has a an article entitled Bosworth's Web of Data where he discusses some of the ideas Adam Bosworth evangelized in his keynote at the MySQL Users Conference 2005. Daniel writes,
The challenge is to take a database and do for the web what was done for content. Bosworth explained that you "need a model that allows for massively linear scalability and federation of information that can spread effortlessly across a federated web."
Solutions that were suggested were to use XML and XQuery. The problem with XML is that unlike HTML, there is not a single grammar. This removed the simple and sloppy aspects of the web. The problem with XQuery is the time it took to finish the specification. Bosworth noted that it took more than four years and that "anything that takes four years is not worth doing. It is over-designed. Intead, take six months and learn from customers."
The next solution used web services, which began as an easy idea: you send an XML request and you get XML back. Instead, the collection of WS-* specs were huge and again, overly complicated. Bosworth said that this was a deliberate effort on the part of the companies that control the specs, like IBM and Microsoft, which deliberately made the specification hard, because then only they could deliver technology to do it.
Bosworth predicts that RSS 2.0 and Atom will be the lingua franca that will be used to consume all data from everywhere. These are simple formats that are sloppily extensible. Anyone who wants to can use these formats to consume content or to author content. Contrast this with the Semantic Web, which requires that you get a large group of people to agree on the schema of everything.
There are lots of interesting ideas here. I won't dwell on the criticisms of XQuery & WS-* mainly because I tend to agree that they are both overdesigned and complicated. I also wont dwell on the apparent contradiction inherent in claiming that the Semantic Web is doomed because it requires people to agree on the same schema for everything then proposing that everyone agree on using RSS as the schema for all data on the Web. I have a suspicion of what he sees as the difference but I'll wait for a blog post from him clarifying that.
What I find very interesting is using RSS is the data access format for the Web. RSS gained popularity as a way to syndicate blog posts and news sites but its turned out to be a lot more versatile than that. Sites like Feedster and Amazon's OpenSearch technology show you can use RSS as a mechanism for providing search results and integrating search engines respectively. Podcasting shows you can use RSS to syndicate digital media content instead of just plain old text or HTML. With Amazon's syndicated feeds one can keep abreast of when new CDs, books and more are released.
Over the weekend I wrote the MSN Spaces photo album browser page which displays slideshows of all the photos in the various albums on a particular user's MSN Spaces space. This page also can display the photos on a randomly selected space. This webpage is entirely powered by RSS. The photos are obtained from the RSS feed for the Space and the list of random spaces is obtained by querying MSN search with the query "site:spaces.msn.com photo album" and requesting the results as RSS. In fact, the information from the MSN Spaces RSS feeds is enough to build something like the Flickr related tags browser, where instead of showing related tags one could show spaces related to the user from the information in their blog roll which happens to also be provided in the RSS feed. Pretty nifty and all without requiring building a REST, SOAP or XML-RPC API.
In situations where one simply wants to expose read-only data via a service on the Web, it's looking like RSS is the technology to beat. As more and more information is exposed as RSS feeds, there will be even more interesting things people will be able to do with this technology. At Microsoft we definitely are gung ho about exposing as much data as possible via RSS and I've been amazed at how much enthusiasm there is around the opportunites in this area.
Side Note: Yesterday while at the Microsoft Research Social Computing Symposium I was chatting with Randy Farmer, who's one of the guys behind Yahoo! 360° and Yahoo's purchase of Flickr, and I mentioned that it seemed like 2003 was the year that RSS really started to take off. This was also the year that Dave Winer froze the RSS 2.0 spec and Sam Ruby gathered all the malcontents in the XML syndication space and gave them a shiny new toy to play with in Atom. Coincidence?