A civilian in the format wars

Brent yesterday declared his neutrality in the brewing revolution called the Echo Project which is working to displace RSS and the Meta-Weblog API (among others) as the blogging wire formats of choice. Good call, Brent. As a civilian observer and consumer of these formats, I’m going to have to go a little further. This is one of the stupider things I’ve ever seen, from a technology AND business strategy perspective.

Is there anything wrong with the technology that we have right now? No. Meta-Weblog works, though it needs wider implementation, as an API to allow multiple tools to work with multiple different kinds of blogs. RSS works, and if it doesn’t do what you need it to do you can expand it with namespaces. I understand the frustration of underspecified formats, but let’s get it straight: every groundbreaking 1.0 project is underspecified. And adoption happens anyway.

Furthermore, this couldn’t come at a worse time. Blogs are finally getting respect. RSS is gaining widespread adoption by BigCo publishers like the New York Times, the BBC, and Microsoft (I can’t imagine that MSDN’s RSS feeds will be the last, and more importantly both programmers and execs are blogging). The market has converged on a standard, and now it’s not about tech any more. It’s about implementation.

But all this is happening because RSS is essentially baked. If you re-open the debate with a project like Echo, you’re sending a strong signal that RSS isn’t ready for prime time—either the technology, or the community around it. And, more importantly, you’re also granting license to other people to do the same thing. One of the beautiful things about RSS is that it can be adopted without question, largely because it just works. What’s to stop some smart guy in a large software company from saying, “there’s no consensus out there, so I’m just going to build my own format.” And if the software company is large enough, lock in happens around that format instead and we’re right back where we started.

Update: Adam Curry and Don Park on the topic.

Update #2: Dave accuses me of eloquence and sums it up in a phrase: “anyone who uses weblogs and aggregators should be angry as hell when developers try to rip up the pavement, break everything and start over.”