The Tragedy of RSS

After seeing this article on XML Hack and 
reading links for several hours (and some digression), I 
arrived at these facts:

1. RSS 0.90 - RDF Site Summary developed by Dan Libby.
2. RSS 0.91 - Rich Site Summary developed by Dan Libby as a 
compromise to achieve validation and simplicity.
3. RSS 0.92, 0.93, 0.9* Rich Site Summary developed by Dave Winer.
4. RSS 1.0  - RDF Site Summary reintroduces RDF for syndication.
5. RSS 2.0  - Real Simple Syndication developed by Dave Winer.
6. ???

It is obvious there is literally a competition over the syndication 
problem domain between RDF and an application of XML Schema.
Besides the tragic tug of war over who's solution is "better" - I 
believe the real tragedy is RDF losing a battle that it should not
have fought.  I believe that Dave Winer, wielding the "simplicity
sledgehammer", will defeat RDF as a more widely adopted 
solution to simple syndication.  The bottom line will be that 
RSS 2.0 is simpler than RSS 1.0 and since RDF still cannot 
prove the value of its additional complexity -- simplicity wins.
In other words, if you take away (or discount) the "it will enable
a wonderfully semantic future" (safely procrastinated away) -- you
have no technical arguments that can stand up to being bludgeoned
by the simplicity and "time is money" argument.

So, why is RDF in this fight?  I think RDF is a misnomer.  It should not be 
called the Resource Description Framework as that is only one 
target for its function and not the best one.  It is obvious that 
RDF can be used to describe more than just electronic resources
and knowledge representation is also more than just description (e.g.
assertion).  A more accurate name would be "Knowledge Graph
Language" (KGL).  Although I do not know the history behind the 
name RDF (if you do please post it), I believe it narrowly (and thus
incorrectly) characterizes the language.  Why would you hinder a 
language with such a name?  I believe the name is a gimmick, like
java applets,  to slip knowledge representation into the web without too 
much friction with the more mature SGML/DTD/XML/Schema data 
representation world.  In fact, some rationalize the RDF in RSS 1.0 as
a good "wedge" into widespread use.  But unfortunately, many RSS 
implementors and developers believe that the syntactic overhead is 
not worth it.

So, if you change the name -- you can concentrate on the bigger 
fish like:
  1. KGL (formerly RDF) as the basis for OWL.
  2. Being able to easily embed KGL statements in existing XML data.
  3. Make the KGL serialization syntax approach N3 simplicity.

If you don't change the name, the W3C must fight tooth and nail to
keep RDF in RSS in terms of adoption as "resource description" would then
be your "main game".   Of course, if MS, IBM, Sun or Oracle adopt RSS 2.0
(or both) that will be an uphill (and probably futile) battle.  Anyone know
what Microsoft thinks of RDF?  Are Microsofties and Dave Winer SOAP
buddies?  (pun intended) ;)

Why am I worried abouth this?  
I do not want this to be a foreshadow of the larger struggle to achieve
the semantic web ("the war").  Because if the RSS battle is painted as 
a "Utopian Complexity" (RDF) versus "Real World Simplicity" (Real Simple
Syndication) -- RDF will lose.  A few RSS type defeats and the semantic
web war will be seen in the same "utopian" light.  So, I can live with
the tragedy of RDF Site Summary if it avoids the tragedy of the 
Semantic Web.

Does anyone else hear the cannon shots across the bow
of the SS Semantic Web?

 - Mike
Michael C. Daconta
Director, Web & Technology Services

Received on Thursday, 3 October 2002 17:12:39 UTC