A user tries to follow the Echos of the RSS debate

Echo: Stop the madness!.

Log Format Roadmap. There seems to be quite some excitement around Ram Ruby’s Roadmap. At first I was a little skeptical on the project (why not calling it YASF as in Yet Another Syndication Format?). After reading Tim Bray’s why we need a new format at all I think that it’s worth a try. Recent history tells us that the main divide was between people saying “It has to be powerful and thus not necessarily easy to understand, we will build tools to manage the complexity” and others saying “It has to be simple so that anybody will be able to hack new solutions using it without being an expert”. Both positions make sense. You don’t really need to understand how the jpeg format works to create cool images, but at the same time all of us learned html looking at other people’s pages, because it was relatively easy to understand. Ultimately it’s only a matter of a very little number of tools vendors, most of them small companies, agreeing on a new standard and changing the world. [Paolo Valdemarin: Paolo’s Weblog]

My first thoughts were “don’t we have enough format arguments as it is?”  I guess I am less skeptical now.  Maybe this is a chance to end the madness and get our collective shit together.

I like the sound of Echo as a name for the new format (much more than PIE).  I think a new name is essential to avoid getting into squabbles about RSS 1.5, 3.0, whatever…

I would prefer that it not use RDF unless that is absolutely necessary.  If there are advantages to having RDF available then Danny Ayers has already shown how this can be achieved.  On the other hand I would like to see some advantage taken of the work that has been done on topic maps, like XTM, XFML and ENT.

I’m also hopeful that Dave’s comment (I was a little suprised not to find a permalink) indicates that he will support the new format although I notice he has not added his name to the list of supporters.

[Curiouser and curiouser!]

Matt pulls together a good collection of posts on what’s been going on in trying to specify a format for weblog posts. The place I found the most usefuf starting point was Tim Bray’s explanation of why we need a new format at all. I found it nicely user oriented.

I depend on other people’s efforts to build the tools I use to do my work. When the engineering debates spill over into incompatibilties and inconsisentcies among the tools my life is harder. As one current example, I would like to subscribe to the RSS feed from the blog thought?horizon. I used to subscribe but it got upgraded to something that my current aggregator tool chokes on. I could send David Buchan an email and point out the problem. Or not.

As a user I don’t really care about the pissing contests that developers like to play. I don’t have the time or the patience to deal with them. I’ve been an early adopter of technology since before I knew what that was. I’m willing to tinker and I like to understand how things work. But I don’t like getting whipsawed. If Bill Gates and Microsoft do something annoying it’s usually time to BOGU. When it’s one of the little guys I’ll place one or two bets and then I get annoyed and then I go somewhere else. 

I want to find ways to support and encourage the innovations like weblogs and wikis that get built because some smart programmer has an itch they need to scratch. I think I get an edge from finding tools before the rest of the pack. And I like to help bring those tools to others who trust me. One way that I control my risk is to make sure that I can get my data in and out of formats that I have some reason to believe are reasonably standard and wide spread. Right now I mostly watch these arguments, worry a lot, and hope they’ll get resolved so I can get on with managing my information environment.

RSS from the user’s side

really simple shit. I love “RSS”. I love my aggregator. I want the two to work in harmony for a long, long time. If I understand correctly, several blogtool vendors are making up their own versions of rss as they go along. Most of these new formats won’t work with my aggregator unless adaptations are made. This doesn’t make any sense to me, if you want your blogtools to become popular, wouldn’t you want the established base be able to read them? Reminds me of railway history, where newcomers developed incompatible ‘broad-gauge‘ trains and tracks. Go ahead and learn from this history, the outcome is as predictable. [Adam Curry: Adam Curry’s Weblog]

Like Adam, I consider myself a technology user, albeit one that is willing to pop the hood and poke at things myself rather than wait for the mechanic to arrive.  I too love RSS and my aggregator. They are the ‘secret sauce’ that gives me immense control over my information environment.

For example, I just checked, and I am currently subscribed to 236 news sources in “Radio”‘s aggregator. I rarely surf to these sites and don’t particularly care what stories look like in context. I get annoyed with sites that don’t provide a full RSS feed and insist on offering snippets or headlines only. Sites that provide no RSS feed essentially don’t exist for me. Selfish? Certainly. Shortsighted and apt to miss something of importance to me? Possibly, although I expect I’ll hear about it from one of my sources that does provide an RSS feed.

95% of my online information comes to me by way of my aggregator. For much of what I am interested in — business uses of information technology and knowledge management related topics — important stories hit my aggregator two to three weeks before they show up in conventional online sources.

I have been following the recent debates over variations in RSS formats in a bemused sort of way. Engineers are always convinced that they can do a better job than the next person. Have you ever browsed the parts bins in a hardware store? I suppose that when engineers were debating the merits of philips head, flat head, and torx screws it certainly mattered to them who did what when. I just want things to more or less work together.

I’m enough of a weekend tinkerer and early adopter that I will tolerate a certain amount of breakage from time to time. If I don’t have the right screwdriver I’m likely to just pound on things with a bigger hammer. But I do get annoyed when people try to invent new screws to sell their brand of screwdriver instead of trying to solve a real problem of connecting things.

One of the risks of choosing to be an early adopter is that I’ll end up picking tools that fail to pass the test of time. In that sense, standards do matter to me as protection against bad choices. The data that makes up what I’ve posted here since October of 2001 is in a format that protects me from the worst of those risks. And that does matter.

Getting up to speed on wikis, part 3

There continues to be great dialog on wikis in the mix of knowledge work in organizations. Ross Mayfield, of socialtext, has an excellent summary post on Group Voice that makes a good point to pick up this thread.

Its not a choice between one or another. The temporal structure of weblogs and logical structure of wikis are a complement for lasting effects. One of the more powerful patterns in an organization is how an opportunity is published in blog, possibilities are swarmed upon in blog conversation and then driven to consensus and outcome in a wikified document. After the outcome, the knowledge and its social context remains.

Both tools together create powerful effects for publishing, communication and collaboration.

Denham Gray calls attention to the key differentiating aspects of wikis in a comment he posted. His key distinctions:

  • The power to contribute BOTH to content and structure – other genres require you post within a predetermined structure (blogs, bulletin boards, guestbooks, IM….)
  • True equality – blogs have an implicit posting hierarchy – some get main board status, the rest are relegated to buried comments (if allowed)
  • Collaborative writing at the most fundamental (text) level – this is very different from annotation, editorial commentary or letters to the editor!
  • Open edit – you can change anything at anytime – no attributation, notime/ date stamps in wiki- just pure flow

Stuart Henshall recommends a look at NexistWiki and also offers several interesting reports on the use of wikis in working sessions (see The One Hour Wiki). Doug Holton at Ed Tech Dev offers a pointer to Tiki (and other CMS tools) for Teaching. One curious thing I’ve noticed is that wikis appear to be very popular in the Smalltalk/Squeak community. Here’s one directory, for example, of Smalltalk Wiki Webs.

Next steps for me will be to begin frequenting a few wikis, installing a wiki somewhere I can play with, and looking for appropriate group opportunities where I can apply wikis. As if I had spare time I was desparate to fill :).

(part 1 and part 2 of my original posts on wikis)

Dibs on Weblog Outliner Tool

Dave continues to tease us with the Weblog Outliner Tool. (SOURCE:Scripting News)-OK, Dave, please stop teasing us. I want this yesterday :-) for my Radio blog ! Ready to beta test anytime!
<QUOTE>Last year on this day I started work on My Weblog Outliner tool. I gotta get back to work on that soon. It’s a good thing. Outlining for Movable Type users. </QUOTE>
[Roland Tanglao’s Weblog]

I can see some pushing and shoving at the head of the line here. I already do 90% of my writing inside “Radio”‘s outliner and end up backing and filling a bit when I move something from there over to my blog. I would love to see “Dave” shift his attention back to this tool. Sign me up and Roland and I can start fighting offline to see who gets first dibs.

Getting up to speed on wikis, part 2

Last Thursday’s post on wikis generated quite a bit of good feedback. Comments from a number of readers offered pointers to more wiki related materials.

Doug Holton, a graduate student at Vanderbilt, offers these three wiki-specific entries from his blog (which looks to be a useful reference in general):

Here are some more thoughts (and actual research) on wikis: http://edtechdev.org/blog/archives/001181.html http://edtechdev.org/blog/archives/001172.html http://edtechdev.org/blog/archives/001173.html

Bill Seitz is experimenting with a cross between a wiki and a weblog he calls a WikiWeblog. He points to his notes there on self-organizing aspects of wikis at Wikis for Collaboration Ware.

Denham Gray gently reminded me of his KmWiki which was the first wiki I ever posted anything to and is a wonderful resource of KM related materials. Denham is a zealous advocate of the collaborative opportunities found in knowledge work.

Jonathan Smith points to Joi Ito’s wiki experiments and an evolving section on Wikis vs. Blogs

Jenny Levine at Shifted Librarian posts a pointer to Blogging, RSS, and Wikis – Presentations, Papers, and a Pathfinder

Elwyn Jenkins at MicroDocBlogger throws his 0.02 in with Blogs, Wikis, and Knowledge Building. He offers the interesting notion that “blogs turn people into webpages” and “wikis turn communities into webpages.”

And finally Ross Mayfield reminds me of the work he is doing at socialText.com which is both a source of great info on wikis and social software in general and an ongoing experiment in the same.

Obviously blogs and wikis are not an either/or proposition. I see them both as examples of grassroots, bottoms up approaches to making knowledge work and knowledge workers more effective. If you lower the barriers to participation and make it easier for individuals and teams to narrate their work, then you start to get the possibility of getting knowledge management as a desirable side effect.

Instead of trying to cram a centralized knowledge management system down everyone’s throat, you focus on helping individuals and teams do their own work more easily and more effectively. If you give some thought to how you design and shape the environment, the benefits of knowledge management sought by vendors of solutions in search of problems will emerge from the work itself.

Getting up to speed on wikis

Wikis are now on the radar screens of many of us grappling with using technology effectively in knowledge work. Ward Cunningham’s book,The Wiki Way:Quick Collaboration on the Web, has been on my bookshelf for some time now and I’ve visited a handful of public wikis. Lately there’s been a spate of posts in the blog world about wikis. I’ve gathered up and made a first pass at organizing the ones I’ve encountered into what might be a reasonable order (based on my current level of ignorance).

One thing that did help me get a better grasp on wikis was listening to David Weinberger’s talk at Seabury Western two weeks ago. David was drawing attention to the collaborative effort to produce the Wikipedia, which is essentially an open source model effort at creating an online encyclopedia. I had always been puzzled by the free-for-all editing capability inherent in the wiki technology. The analogy that finally made it clear for me was to a whiteboard in a conference room. Those frequently become shared design spaces as markers change hands. Wikis are the same idea moved to the web, which suggests to me that they are likely to be more useful inside organizations than elsewhere.

  • Why Wiki Works – [link courtesy of Corante: Social Software, which has been following the Wiki discussion in depth]
  • Why Wike Works/Not
  • Why I Don’t Like Wikis Email – [Also from Corante: Social Software] – Some interesting observations about visual presentation in wikis and email vs. better laid out web pages and how this interferes with the usefulness of wikis (at least on the public web).
  • Email Doesn’t Self-Organize – [from Ross Mayfield] – quoting Ward Cunningham

    Cunningham also points out that you can go away from a wiki and come back at any time to pick up a conversation without much inconvenience, which isn’t the case with e-mail-centric group discussions. “E-mail doesn’t self-organize,” he emphasizes.

  • The Cunningham quote comes from What’s a Wiki? an overview article by Sebastian Rupley at Extreme Tech.
  • Wiki as a PIM and Collaborative Content Tool [via Sebastian Fiedler] – which appears to be a good overview with lots of links.
  • From the other Seb in my aggregator (Sebastien Paquet at Seb’s Open Research) comes Why Meatball Matters.

    Meatball Wiki is a little-known gem in the jungle of online community-related material on the Web. What is it about? A whole lot of fascinating stuff – in founder Sunir Shah’s words:

    It philosophizes about the nature of hypertext, government, and identity. It talks about user interfaces, community building, and conflict resolution. But it also contains technical analyses of indexing schemes, wiki architecture, and inter-wiki protocol design.

    Sunir has recently been busy writing up a nice summary of what’s significant about Meatball, as part of a work portfolio he’s preparing to get into the Knowledge Media Design Institute at the University of Toronto.

    I believe Sunir understands Wiki philosophy better than anyone else I know. His contributions to framing the concept and patterns of soft security that underlie the social architecture of Wikis are what made me an early convert to Meatball. If only Sunir had kept a blog instead of a home-brewed diary page, he’d surely be well-known in social software circles today.

    Hopefully, as the Wiki way slowly seeps into the mainstream Internet mentality, its perceived weirdness will subside and collaborative hypermedia communities like this one will get the recognition (and linkage) they deserve.

Reed on the Myth of Interference

My article on David Reed is in Salon. Salon today is running “The Myth of Interference,” an article I wrote about David Reed’s idea that the federal policies intended to prevent radio signals from interfering are based on bad science…. [Joho the Blog]

With this concluding quote from Reed

“The best science is often counterintuitive,” says Reed. “And bad science always leads to bad policy.”

Definitely worth reading, both for its specific message about a different way to think about regulating radio and the deeper issues of how to think about the interaction between policy making and technology development and evolution. I would tweak Reed’s final comment to read “a bad understanding of science always leads to bad policy.”

I sometimes wonder whether we wouldn’t have better policy if policy makers took the same care to not over-design their solutions that Reed and his colleagues took when they formulated their end-to-end argument.

Why not RSS?

Why RSS?.

There’s an interesting cross-blog discussion going on about RSS. Follow the links:

  • “Maybe one day Corante will get RSSfeeds. I almost completely missed this Part II. Almost nobody reads blogs anymoe. Everything comes in through RSS.” [Marc’s Voice]
  • “Actually, a tiny technical elite reads RSS. Everyone else reads on the web. Maybe that will change. I’m not sure.” [EVHEAD]
  • “If I grab an RSS feed of his site, half the pleasure of visiting is taken away from me. The issue of RSS is about more than just textuality. Websites are still to some extent billboards, as they were back in 1995. But the slogan is often, ‘Come for the scenery; stay for the entertainment’.” [three legged pi]

Of course, all of you know where I come down in this debate. If you’re a casual blog reader, then that last course of action is for you. But once you start reading 20+ blogs on a daily basis, an RSS news aggregator becomes a huge advantage. There’s no way I could read 190 sites consistently and thoroughly without one. So at some point, you have to decide what’s more important to you – the style or the substance. In my case, it’s the substance.

And Corante, my foot is tapping while I continue waiting to read your content….

[The Shifted Librarian]

Why isn’t the question “Wny not RSS?” If you are writing because you think you have something to say what are you putting any roadblocks up to people reading it? If Joe is willing to come to my front door and explain things to me, why would I ever make the trip to Suzy’s for essentially the same information? And why should I have to go over to Suzy’s just to find out whether there’s anything new to see?

I suppose I can accept that someone wouldn’t want to provide full text feeds, but why would anyone refuse to at least publish headlines to bring me back to the site whose design I’m supposed to appreciate? Somebody help me understand the other side of this argument, cause I just don’t get it.

Confessions of an RSS bigot

Shifted Librarian. Shifted Librarian: “The Corante crew just doesn’t want to give up the RSS feeds, so I don’t read a single Corante blog.” [Scripting News]’

Yes, I’m an RSS bigot as well. And yes, I know that I could create my own feed using something like RSS Distiller as John Robb points out. But as my own support staff, I scarcely have time to stay current with the material that already comes into my news aggregator. the time to figure out how to parse a site’s html and generate a reasonable feed generally isn’t worth it.

I’m sure that the material in the Corante blogs is excellent. That’s not the issue; so is all the other material that comes to me via RSS. It’s about managing my poor, limited, attention which needs all the help it can get. For my selfish purposes, the more material that flows into my news aggregator the better. And better still if I can get full posts instead of teasers. I’ve yet to find a blog post that read better in context than it did in my plain aggregator. More often than not, it’s the other way round. In my aggregator I don’t have to fight with tiny gray type on dark backgrounds or some other nonsense that gets in the way of the ideas.

Am I missing something I might otherwise enjoy and benefit from? Possibly. Am I losing any sleep over it? No.

Outlining and weblogs

Dave W. continues to tease. How long have Radio users wanted to update our weblogs via the outliner? Seems like forever. That’s a feature that’d be worth the yearly update price. [Steven’s Notebook]

When can I get my outliner? Like Steven I’ve been waiting for this next bit of power out of Radio. As a matter of fact, I began using Radio and its precursor Pike more for their outlining capability than anything else. Weblogging came long after the value of outlining. Wouldn’t it be great to put the two together?