Awasu » 800-pound gorillas
Saturday 25th June 2005 9:42 PM [General]

Just in case someone, somewhere thought that I wasn't busy enough already, Microsoft announced on Friday their RSS plans for Longhorn and there is a huge amount of buzz on the blogosphere about it.

The announcement consisted of two parts.

Firstly, Microsoft announced their Simple List Extensions. This is a pretty trivial extension and while useful, it's not exactly earth-shattering. Some people have complained that Microsoft are up to their old tricks and trying to commandeer and take over an existing, widely-used technology in order to twist it into a proprietary format but this is wrong. SLE is an extension to RSS, something that RSS specifically encourages.

In the very early days of Awasu, I wrote a document in which I said that RSS could be considered simply as a means of transporting information around. And it doesn't have to be limited to news or blog posts. Just look at enclosures, piggy-backing on feed items as they move around the net via RSS. Furthermore, using XML namespaces, people can embed whatever information they like into a feed and ship it around using RSS.

The entire architecture of Awasu reflects this underlying concept of RSS as a transport system for information. An application can generate an RSS feed that contains its own specific information, absolutely anything it likes, embedded into items using XML namespaces. On the other end, an Awasu channel can have hooks attached to it that are simply scripts that gets run whenever new items are received. These scripts scan the new items for this application-specific information and process it however they choose. Bingo, you have a completely extensible framework for shipping your information around and acting upon it when it arrives, complete with all the automatic updating, notification, archiving and indexing that Awasu provides for all of its channels.

Another thing that I said in the document was that RSS was not going to be all that important in itself. What I meant by that was that RSS was simply going to be the first step along the way to something much bigger. RSS is going to be to the semantic web what Lynx and HTML 1.0 was to the web, all those years ago. The XML and web services people have been pounding on their respective pulpits for years about the benefits of using XML for computer-to-computer interaction but until now, it's been far too complicated for your average Joe to understand, let alone use, and so has only be used in the corporate world. RSS is the first XML format that has really become popular with the general public and is the thin edge of the wedge. Already we've been seeing people asking "Can I use RSS to monitor my sales database?" "How about a FedEx package or my Outlook calendar?" All of a sudden, they're seeing the potential that XML-based computer-to-computer communication offers and are starting to demand politely ask for it. And so the use of XML-based communications is going to explode. Dare Obasanjo had it right when he said that "Using XML syndication is an evolution in the way people interact with content on the web".

The second part of the announcement concerns Microsoft's strategy for RSS in Longhorn. This is, of course, much more significant. Some people have already asked me what this means for Awasu. Here's my take on it:

I'm not worried at all.

In fact, it's a good thing. One of the problems with writing an RSS reader today is that not many people other than the geeks know about it. Integrate RSS into Windows and that problem suddenly disappears in a big, big way 🙂

I must admit, my heart skipped a beat when I read about the Common RSS Feed List and Data Store that let any application offer RSS services to the user. Since this means that any program can let you monitor your feeds, what implications does it have for Awasu? Well, if you only have a few feeds then monitoring them in IE or Outlook will be fine but for hard-core information management, you need a dedicated application that was specifically designed for it. That'd be Awasu.

As we're seeing already, it's not about retrieving buckets and buckets of information and presenting it to the user that's important, it's what you do with it. People have been complaining for ages about information overload but if you thought it was bad before, just try it with an RSS reader automatically updating hundreds and hundreds of channels every hour :o. This is another example of the immaturity of the technology: computers blindly retrieving megabytes of feed content (and gigabytes of enclosures :o) and just dumping it all on the user with no consideration for how they're going to deal with it all.

As I described above, one key aspect of Awasu's technology is its plugin architecture that lets you do whatever you want with the information that is coming in. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to read it; you can quite happily have a feed that you never look at but has channel hooks attached to it that automatically run when new items are received and act upon the information found therein.

Also, we are now coming to the end of the development of core features for Awasu and will soon start on the really cool stuff, features that let you manage this huge amount of information coming in. If you consider what we've achieved in two years, you can be sure that there is going to be some pretty amazing stuff over the next two and beyond.

Sure, somebody could write an application that uses Longhorn's RSS functionality to build something similar to Awasu but we have a 2+N+M year head-start on them, where N is the number of years before Longhorn is actually released 🙄 and M is the number of years before a significant number of people are actually using it. Given the number of people still using old versions of Windows going back to W98 (and even earlier!), it's going to take a while.

So no, I'm not really worried at all. Bring it on! This is going to be so much fun! 😎

3 Responses to this post

[...] Long-time readers of this weblog will know where this post is going so I won’t bore you again with all the details about RSS as a transport mechanism for information, just read my old posts. He gives an example of details of an email being embedded into a feed item and it’s easy to see how this kind of thing can be done for any kind of information and in particular, your kind of information. [...]

[...] The real power becomes apparent when you start publishing your own feeds, with your own specific metadata embedded in them. You can then create your own metadata module that tells Awasu how to extract it from a feed and present it to the user! There’s not another feed reader on the planet that gives you the power to configure it to understand your information and this is another step towards the realization of our vision of RSS as a transport mechanism for information. [...]

[...] long held that channel reports are one of the most useful features of Awasu, letting you do something useful with all the information coming in, and so it’s important that they look just as good as the channel pages, out of the box. So [...]

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