Thursday, June 3, 2004

Gmail will bring RSS to the masses

Lots of talk lately that e-mail is dead. At the Inbox Event (ongoing, see our EventSpace for a good discussion from today’s panel discussion), many are trying to figure out how to deal with spam.



And the Online Journalism Review writes today that many publishers are contemplating RSS as the answer to their newsletters getting caught up in spam filters.



So… what’s the most popular new e-mail program? Gmail.



How long before Gmail integrates an RSS reader into Gmail?



Oh wait a minute. That’s right, Google only likes ATOM. So Google will implement an ATOM reader in Gmail, and try to force web publishers to adopt ATOM over RSS.



RSS works. Politics aside, it works. Gmail could implement a simple RSS reader tomorrow and instantly accelerate the demand for RSS from publishers — and render moot all the handwringing documented at OJR.



But they won’t, and we’ll have a standards war emerge, and we the users will suffer…

6 comments:

  1. Larry Staton Jr.June 4, 2004 at 12:57 AM

    You can already email yourself RSS feeds using Aaron Swartz's rss2email program.

    http://www.aaronsw.com/2002/rss2email/

    While rss2email is a command-line program (and thus not for your typical user), I don't see why someone couldn't put a nice user interface on it.

    So you don't need to worry about Gmail having a built-in Atom reader. You can use rss2email.

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  2. Larry -

    I'm not concerned about us early adopters - I'm concerned about the rest of the user community who don't know what RSS is. They don't know (and shouldn't need to) what it is, or why it matters - but until someoone like Gmail (or, to a lesser extent, Yahoo Mail or Hotmail) offers built-in RSS reading, it'll continue to be on the periphery for most computer users.

    So yes, there are tons of utilities out there for the techies -- but that's not my issue. And as long as Google pursues a competitive spec at the exclusion of other, more widely-used formats, we'll have conflict and a lack of progress.

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  3. I'm sure Google will eventually put out some kind of feed aggregator, but I would be very surprised if it only read Atom feeds. From what I've seen, Google has no agenda when it comes to syndication. There's no real reason to publish both RSS and Atom -- it makes since to just pick one. Atom is in active development, it's supported by every major feed reader (the notable exception, of course, being Radio Userland), and it's on its way to becoming a recognized standard. RSS is also widely supported and it's more established. For all we know, they flipped a coin.

    There are, however, plenty of reasons for a Google feed reader to support every format, and no good reason for them not to. If you were building a web browser today, would you create one that only read XHTML?

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  4. Billy, if Google doesn't have an agenda when it comes to syndication, then why don't they publish RSS at Blogger?

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  5. Saying that Gmail will have an Atom-only reader because Blogger and Google Groups produce Atom is precisely as reasonable as saying that Opera's browser will only read XHTML and not HTML, because their site is XHTML.

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  6. Randy: Um, I thought I covered that in my comment. It doesn't make sense to publish both, so they picked one. There are reasons to choose Atom over RSS. There are reasons to choose RSS over Atom. Which way a company goes depends on which reasons are important to them.

    I don't think any of it is political, though. There is no strategic gain from choosing one format over another -- customers don't care. And, what most people fail to realize is there's no such thing as a format war on the Internet. People hear "format war" and they think Beta vs. VHS, and assume there has to be a winner. As long as software developers are willing and able to support it (and, in the case of XML formats, they have no excuse not to), all formats can live together in harmony. That's how the web and e-mail have worked for years, and that's how syndication will ultimately work.

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