stands accused of usurping an emerging web application,
and information professionals are advised to sit up and
take notice. Not so much of the non-story itself, but the
underlying trends which spell fundamental change to their
To put things in perspective, here’s a tech flashback:
At the height of the dot-com bubble, when billions of
venture capital dollars were being blown on one 15-minute
cyberfad after the next - and Netscape and Microsoft were
at each other’s throats in the vicious Browser Wars -
the industry media caught wind of a new buzzword:
Push technology was going to redefine the web. Why should
we spend hours just surfing (I mean, how much fun does
that sound?) when we could spell out our requirements and
allow content providers to ‘push’ what we were looking
for to our desktop?
For a while there, push looked like the answer to all our
web needs and in 1997, push player PointCast appeared to
be actually worth the $450 million bid made by News Corp.
Two years later, PointCast went for just $7 million after
running into the kind of revenue problems that would burst
the global dot-com bubble.
Push became synonymous with dot-com failure. Wanted to
sound a bum note at a Silicon Valley party in 2001? Just
slip “Boo.com”, “Irrational exuberance” or
“push” into the conversation. Then sit back and watch
them choke on their frappuccinos.
While push may be dead and buried, it lives on - in
spirit, at least - in a technology that has been quietly
taking the web by stealth. Where push tried the direct
approach and failed, the new contender – RSS – has
crept in through the backdoor.
Here’s the tech stuff in a nutshell: RSS (which stands
for Rich Site Summary, RDF Site Summary, or Really Simple
Syndication; take your pick) has emerged as the dominant
delivery method for news websites and weblogs.
RSS is, in turn, a file format of XML (no choice with this
one, it’s Extensible Markup Language), and, frankly,
even information professionals can end the tricky part of
their RSS education here.
What matters now is this: RSS is everywhere. And it’s
not just the 800lb gorilla sites like Google News (http://news.google.com)
and Yahoo! News (http://news.yahoo.com/)
making use of RSS - want to keep track of the 25 hottest
urban legends? Snopes.com’s feed is here: http://www.snopes.com/info/top25uls.rss.
Or why not subscribe to The Mead Feed (http://www.gotmead.com/atom.xml)
and receive “random maunderings [sic] on the mead-making
For public relations professional, gaining comprehensive
knowledge of RSS and how to use it is an absolute no
brainer – major news aggregators are waiting for press
releases right now, as long as they are provided in RSS
format. And RSS feeds of search engine results can
automate daily press clipping chores.
Even the lowliest news and information sites are offering
full RSS compliance. Which is why many developers and
other early adopters were outraged by Microsoft’s
perceived high-jacking of RSS last month.
Word hit the street that Big Bill was planning to refer to
RSS feeds as “web feeds” in a future version of
Internet Explorer. Foul, cried the geeks. Microsoft was
simply renaming an existing technology and shouldn’t be
allowed to pass this technology off as its own innovation.
the furor was short lived when the same geeks realized the
vast majority of computer users didn’t have a clue what
RSS was in the first place, never mind how to put it to
good use. And when it was also pointed out that Google and
the open-source web browser Firefox also gave RSS feeds
more user-friendly names, the Microsoft bashing died down
to the usual background noise.
In fact, most commentators skimmed over the key element of
the Microsoft scare: the Internet Explorer integration. It
doesn’t matter what it’s called, just as long as the
main players see enough potential in it to maintain and
expand their support for it.
Like it or not, Microsoft still holds the lion’s share
of the browser market and if RSS is to continue its
conquest of the web, then a little help from Bill could be
just the ticket.