September 12, 2004
@ 02:17 AM

In his post Full text RSS on MSDN gets turned off Robert Scoble writes

Steve Maine: what the hell happened to

RSS is broken, is what happened. It's not scalable when 10s of thousands of people start subscribing to thousands of separate RSS feeds and start pulling down those feeds every few minutes (default aggregator behavior is to pull down a feed every hour).

Bandwidth usage was growing faster than MSDN's ability to pay for, or keep up with, the bandwidth. Terrabytes of bandwidth were being used up by RSS.

So, they are trying to attack the problem by making the feeds lighter weight. I don't like the solution (I've unsubscribed from almost all feeds because they no longer provide full text) but I understand the issues.

This is becoming a broken record. Every couple of months some web site that hasn't properly prepared for the amount of bandwidth consumed by having a popular RSS feed loudly complains and the usual suspects complain that RSS is broken. This time the culprit is Weblogs @ ASP.NET and their mistake was not providing HTTP compression to clients speaking HTTP 1.0. This meant that they couldn't get the benefits of HTTP compression when talking to popular aggregators like Straw, FeedDemon, SharpReader, NewsGator and RSS Bandit. No wonder their bandwidth usage was so high.

But lets ignore that the site wasn't properly configured enough to utilize all the bandwidth saving capabilities of HTTP. Instead lets assume Weblogs @ ASP.NET had done all the right things but was still getting to much bandwidth being consumed. Mark Nottingham covered this ground in his post The Syndication Sky is Falling!

A few people got together in NYC to talk about Atom going to the W3C this morning. One part of the minutes of this discussion raised my eyebrows a fair amount;

sr: […] Lots of people are saying RSS won’t scale. Somebody is going to say I told you so.
bw: Werner Vogels at Cornell has charted it out. We're at the knee of the curve. I don’t think we have 2 years.
sr: I have had major media people who say, until you solve this, I’m not in.
bw: However good the spec is, unless we deal with the bag issues, it won’t matter. There are fundamental flaws in the current architecture.

Fundamental flaws? Wow, I guess I should remind the folks at Google, Yahoo, CNN and my old colleagues at Akamai that what they’re doing is fundamentally flawed; the Web doesn’t scale, sorry. I guess I’ll also have to tell the people at the Web caching workshops that what they do is futile, and those folks doing Web metrics are wasting their time. What a shame...

Bad Reasons to Change the Web Architecture

But wait, there’s more. "Media people" want to have their cake and eat it too. It’s not good enough that they’re getting an exciting, new and viable (as compared to e-mail) channel to eyeballs; they also have to throw their weight around to reduce their costs with a magic wand. What a horrible reason to foist new protocols, new software, and added complexity upon the world.

The amusing new wrinkle is that every body's favorite leader of the "RSS is broken let's start all over" crowd, Sam Ruby, has decided it is time to replace blogs pinging when they update and using HTTP to fetch RSS feeds. Hopefully, this will be more successful than his previous attempts to replace RSS and the various blogging APIs with Atom. It's been over a year and all we have to show from the creation of Atom is yet another crufty syndication format with the promise of one more incompatible one on the way.

Anyway, the point is that RSS isn't broken. After all, it is just an XML file format. If anything is broken it is using HTTP for fetching RSS feeds. But then again do you see people complaining every time some poor web site suffers the effects of the Slashdot Effect about how HTTP is broken and needs to be replaced? If you are running a popular web site, you will need to spend money to afford the traffic., and are all serving terrabytes of content each month. If they were serving these with the same budget that I have for serving my website these sites would roll over and die. Does this mean we should replace using web browsers and HTTP for browsing the Web and resort to using BitTorrent for fetching HTML pages? It definitely would reduce the bandwidth costs of sites like, and

The folks paying for the bandwidth that hosts Weblogs @ ASP.NET (the ASP.NET team not MSDN as Scoble incorrectly surmises) decided they had reached their limits and reduced the content of the feeds. It's basically a non-story. The only point of interest is that if they had announced this with enough warning internally folks wuld have advised them to turn on HTTP compression for HTTP 1.0 clients before resorting to crippling the RSS feeds. Act in haste, repent at leisure.