My friend Raymond…Posted: November 24, 2005
My friend Raymond is getting some attention for his love of OPML over on Dave Winer’s Scripting.com here and here. As is typical of format geeks, there’s a debate over on Raymond’s blog comments about why you’d use OPML over XHTML ordered and unordered lists. When are people going to realize that 99% of people don’t care? I’ve been involved in more format discussions than I care to remember, and in the end the reason RSS and OPML will become popular is because Dave Winer goes to the effort to develop tools rather than writing specifications and hoping someone will write tools for them. The format in the end doesn’t really matter much, it’s just a way to format data. There have been thousands over the years, and as long as everyone can read it, the rest is just syntax and semantics.
Josh and I were having a debate the other day as to whether using a pseudo-protocol like fireant:// was an acceptable solution for one-click subscribe in our aggregator. Most of the other aggregators are fighting over feed:// or some other specific file format (like iTunes pcast files). Why should we worry about all this when all we want is to enable easy one-click subscribe for people who already have our software? Josh’s concern is that the geeks will be upset over our use of a protocol that’s not really a protocol (of course, no need to remind people that feed:// isn’t a valid protocol either) instead of doing it through a file or some other method that’s more robust. Sorry, it works. The facilities are already in the OS and the browser to facilitate it, why not use it? Is it a hack? Yeah, so what? It works!
The same people who would be upset about us using fireant:// as a protocol are the ones who’d be upset that people are using OPML rather than XHTML formatted unordered and ordered lists. Hello? Who fucking cares. The user cares that it works! We spend far too much time debating the merits of one format over another and lot less time than we should making sure that software works for the end user. This is why Dave Winer continues to be a success in getting formats adopted, because unlike the Atom folks who have spent years making a format that’s the most robust and most well-documented, there isn’t a refrence implementation. Why is Microsoft Word the default format for exchanging documents and not OASIS? Because of the software people use. Why is RSS the preferred format for exchanging feed information? Because there was software that worked when the format was introduced that everyone could use as a reference implementation.
There something also to be said for simplicity. OPML and RSS are simple. Perhaps the specs are not complete and don’t cover all the use cases, but I can also code something up to work with them in a matter of hours. I investigated the Atom publishing protocol, and it would take me a couple days to do a pull implementation. By contrast, I have done a full Metaweblog implementation in a couple of hours.
Dave Winer can be an ass, but I give him credit where credit is due. The people who spend so much time complaining about him are excellent at complaining and not so good at getting things done. For that, I look to Dave.