See editor's note below
Quietly flourishing for years with tools from small vendors, online personal publishing technology has skyrocketed in popularity during the past year, attracting serious interest from megaplayers such as AOL and Google. This summer, AOL plans to launch a Weblog tool dubbed AOL Journals, while Google continues to digest Pyra Labs, acquired earlier this year.
Most Weblogs are currently fueled by RSS, known both as Really Simple Syndication and RDF (Resource Description Framework) Site Summary. Based on XML, RSS is a Web publishing format for syndicating content, and it is heralded for its simple yet highly effective means of distributing information online. Although not officially sanctioned by a standards body, the format enjoys wide adoption by RSS content aggregators and publishing systems. Media companies such as the BBC, The New York Times, and InfoWorld currently support RSS.
First introduced by Netscape in 1999, the format has been shepherded and enriched by a loose group of individuals, including Dave Winer, founder of UserLand Software, an Acton, Mass.-based Weblog developer.
"By design, RSS is very simple. The power of the concept is that you have incredible content flowing through it," said Winer, now a fellow at Harvard Law School. "[RSS] is very useful and is not waiting for [a problem] to solve. It met a need and had a purpose the day it came into existence."
Primarily used as the feed engine behind Weblogs, RSS is rapidly catching on as an efficient way to consume and manage the constant flow of dynamic content on the Web, according to Tim Bray , CTO of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Antarctica Systems and co-inventor of XML.
"The Web provides a good way of consuming information, but a Web browser by itself is not a good way to track a dynamic resource. RSS plugs that gap very effectively," Bray said. "[RSS has] the potential to impact how everyone interacts with the Web; it will be huge."
Despite the undisputed popularity and proven utility of RSS, a new standard is emerging in an attempt to lay the foundations for the Weblog's future. Originally dubbed Echo and now rechristened as Atom, the effort is described as a grassroots, vendor-neutral push to address some of the limitations of RSS.
Rather than adding to the existing RSS specification, development on these issues has splintered off into a separate effort due to disagreement among community members as to the purpose and direction of RSS. The idea is to build on the foundation of RSS, according to Anil Dash , vice president of business development at Six Apart, a San Francisco-based Weblog vendor.