Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: Asking Tim

Author:Tim O'Reilly
Posted:9/21/2000; 7:29:20 AM
Topic:Asking Tim
Msg #:21575 (In response to 21560)
Prev/Next:21574 / 21576

You ask:

If it turns out that the plan to call the new spec "RSS 1.0" was done in private, without any heads-up or consultation, or for a chance for the Syndication list members to agree or disagree, not just me, what are you going to do?

As I understand it, it was public knowledge (or certainly your knowledge) that there was work going on on a spec to extend RSS. When it was published, it was published as a "proposed RSS 1.0 spec", and that seems completely legitimate to me, whether or not the work to develop it was done in public or private. The dozen people who worked on it have enough history with RSS to propose anything they like. You personally urged Rael to start the effort to write up what he was thinking as a proposed spec. And a "proposed RSS 1.0 spec" seems like as good a description as any for what they had come up with.

It seems to me that you immediately hardened the battle lines, and started crying foul, when you should instead have said: "I don't think that this is the right direction for RSS 1.0." If you'd kept yourself to technical substance instead of vague (and incorrect) accusations of plots masterminded by O'Reilly, this whole contretemps could have been avoided.

As Lao Tzu says, "He who feels pricked, must first have been a bubble." I believe it was your power grab to unilaterally rewrite the RSS 0.91 spec with a Userland copyright that actually started this whole thing. You were moving to claim RSS as "yours" and a group of other developers put an oar in, and you didn't like it.

But as I keep saying, my opinion on this isn't terribly material. This is an issue for the RSS developer community. What I keep complaining about is your attempt to lay it at my company's doorstep. Yes, Rael Dornfest, who works for me, was one of the authors of the spec. Yes, Dale Dougherty and Edd Dumbill, who run the O'Reilly Network and respectively, also work for me, and were covering this area, and were supportive of what Rael was doing. But if there hadn't been real uptake of Rael's ideas about RDF, and momentum among people like Dan Brickley and Guha who'd been involved in the original development of RSS, but instead, the core developer community had rallied around your ideas for a "proposed RSS 1.0 spec", they would have reported on that and promoted their stories about that proposal just as strongly.

I keep wondering why you don't take this up with the other core RSS developers. I'm perhaps a safer target, since I wasn't involved and can't speak firsthand about what happened. I note that when you posted your accusations on the syndication list, you got very strong pushback from Dan Brickley. I suggest that you keep talking with people who were involved, rather than trying to use me as a straw man for your position.

You ask:

UserLand did a lot of work to create and popularize and support RSS. We walked away from that, and let your guys have the name. That's the top level. If I want to do any further work in Web syndication, I have to use a different name.

First off, let me say that by any outside reading, your claim to have "created" RSS has no basis. Dan Brickley's posts to FoRK, the first of which I linked to above, make that fairly clear. Netscape created it, but even then, it is so similar to other things available at the time from a number of players, including Microsoft, that anyone's claim to ownership are pretty thin. Netscape created the name, and that's about as close as you can get. You certainly did a lot of work to popularize and support it.

As to you walking away, that's your choice. It seems to me that:

a) You could still have the option of trying to engage with the other RSS developers to refine or revise the proposed RSS 1.0 spec in a way that might make it more acceptable to you. But you have to accept that it's not yours, and you don't control it. It belongs to a group of developers. Only one of the 12 people who worked on the proposed spec works for me. I have never met any of the others, and had never even exchanged mail with any of them before you started accusing them of being my company's pawns.

b) Based on my relatively limited understanding of the spec, it seems to me that its namespace based approach should allow your vision of "simple RSS" to continue, as one of the namespaces. With a relatively small amount of effort, both sides get what they want, and it's purely a matter of flexibility for users. Those who don't need the advanced features don't need to use them, while those who want them can do so.

In short, it looks to me like you're the one hung up about control and ownership of the name and the spec. Which is why, once again, I keep wondering why you keep trying to lay this whole problem at my doorstep.

As a matter of fact "my guys" (your term) -- specifically Rael Dornfest, who was the only one of "my guys" who was directly involved -- explored with the other authors of the spec the idea of renaming it xRSS after you made a fuss about the name, but by then, you'd apparently so pissed everyone off by your accusations that they weren't interested in that option.

(I have to say that while that option sounds superficially like a win-win, I think it probably isn't. All it does is externalize one level of the namespace problem, rather than keeping it internal to the spec! But as I've noted many times, I'm not involved enough in the issues to have a really substantial opinion on the topic.)

So once again, I refer you back to the community that you supposedly want to be involved with. Stick to technical issues, stop accusing people with whom you disagree about those technical issues of having hidden motives and secret masterminds, and see if you can figure out a way to persuade rather than bully the other participants round to your point of view. It seems really curious that you keep trying to debate with me (who isn't involved) on lists that you control, rather than going to lists where the people who are involved hang out, and debate the issue with them.

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