Merger For Rival RSS/ATOM Formats?

Which content syndication camp are you in? RSS or Atom?

Actually, if a new proposal by the co-author of the popular RSS format catches on, it won’t matter; both would merge into one protocol under a new proposal, a move that could nip the argument over the competing formats in the bud.

Dave Winer, a central figure behind the push for mainstream RSS adoption, has now proposed a merger with the newer Atom standard, insisting “it’s time to bury the hatchet and move on.”

Winer announced his proposal in a Weblog
on Tuesday and urged developers to put their heads together in order to come up with a backwards-compatible format to avoid confusion and bring the two competing standards together.

The creation of the Atom format last year by developers from IBM , Google and a host of blog tools vendors has led to acrimony among software engineers.

Google, through its Blogger service, has ditched RSS in favor of Atom syndication format but, according to Winer, the availability of competing formats is scaring away mainstream adoption of RSS.

RSS (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) is a “push” standard first developed by Netscape in the 1990s. It shuttles Web content to newsreaders and aggregators from popular sites. In recent weeks, big name firms like Yahoo and have rolled out RSS capabilities while published reports say Sun Microsystems plans to adopt the format in its product offerings.

With momentum on his side, Winer said it would be reasonable to merge Atom with RSS in much the same way the RSS 2.0 version was created to be compatible with earlier versions. “We could come up with a new format called, say, RSS/Atom. It would have the great spec that the Atom people are promising. A great validator, and lots of support from developers who evangelize the format,” he said.

Winer proposed the merged format should differ from RSS 2.0 as little as possible and suggested the merger be managed by an IETF working group that would be open to anyone who wants to participate.

Predictably, the proposal triggered immediate discussion on Weblogs Tuesday with IBM engineer and Atom backer Sam Ruby suggesting that talk of a merger focus on creating an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) working group. “An IETF working group would provide the backdrop, framework, and context for addressing the other bullet points,” Ruby said in response to Winer’s published proposal.

The IETF is an open community of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers working on the creation of standards aimed at the smooth operation of the Internet.

Chris Pirillo, an RSS enthusiast who tracks the growth of the technology for Lockergnome’s RSS Resource,
believes the merger talk is meaningless. “This doesn’t matter because nobody cares outside of a few geeks,” Pirillo told “If your aggregator supports Atom, it doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t support Atom,
users will choose a different aggregator.”

According to Pirillo, consumers are more concerned about finding a
newsreader/aggregator that will read all the formats instead of a bitter battle over which format is better for syndication.

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