What we lost (a paean, perhaps, to RSS)

Recently Dave Winer has been posting thoughts about using tags (some of us old-timers used to call them ‘topics’) in his blog. This is more than a little bit poignant because I have a history here, and Dave started it with Radio Userland and RSS.

Back in 2003, Paolo Valdemarin and I built a product called k-Collector which was an offshoot of a tool, liveTopics, that I had built for my Radio based blog “Curiouser and Curiouser” (the v1.0 of this one).

While the notion of categories was already a feature of blogs & RSS, liveTopics was I think a first in that it allowed a user to add topics to posts, to publish per-topic RSS feeds, and even to create a tagged index of posts. Thanks to the magic of the Wayback Machine you can still see this stuff, even though that blog is long gone.

Then k-Collector took this notion to the next level by connecting together the topic-based feeds of a community of blogs and creating a collective view, based on shared tags. We published a service W4 for a while. Again the magic of the Wayback Machine means you can still see it (the related topics still work and even the topic filters!)

To feed k-Collector we needed a way to transport tags through RSS. So Paolo and I invited Easy News Topics (ENT) as an RSS2.0 module to do the work. Whereas liveTopics only worked with Radio Userland, now anyone could play by simply putting their tags in their RSS feed.

k-Collector was too revolutionary for 2004. Companies did not routinely blog at that time, let alone see the value of their employee’s blogging about their experiences and challenges, didn’t see the value of connecting the dots. Sad that.

Today k-Collector would not be possible. That alternative future where everyone started blogging and putting their content in RSS2.0 feeds that we could analyse to connect those conversations did not happen.

Instead Facebook Workplace, Slack, and a host of other silo’s took hold of the future and, no matter what good they may have done, we’ve all lost out.

2 thoughts on “What we lost (a paean, perhaps, to RSS)”

  1. I completely disagree. Maybe what you built back then wouldn’t be possible, but RSS feeds for topics and tags are still prevalent today. RSS is stil around, it never “died,” because it wasn’t a living thing in the first place.
    I suppose you could say it became less relevant, however, there are a decent amount of people who still use it, including me. There are also an ever-growing amount of people who are deciding they’re tired of social media platforms, citing multiple reasons.
    No, we haven’t lost RSS, it’s still here. There are people still using it.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree with you, if I had been trying to say that RSS the protocol was dead, you would be right. RSS the protocol/technology still works fine and if a site creates a feed (that is not just excerpts designed to get you to click through to their site & ads) you can still read them in your RSS reader. But that was never my point.

      What is dead, or at least like Arthur, waiting for the right moment to come back is the idea of RSS as a system for connecting content streams together and building higher-order services on top.

      When too much thought & conversation is captured inside Facebook, Twitter, Slack and all these other services that depend upon owning you & your content, the RSS system cannot thrive.

      I saw amazing possibilities arising out of individuals publishing their content through feeds, the increasing use of micro-formats to add layers of semantic information and combining services to create more powerful services. That future didn’t happen.

      That’s what I am sad about.

      For more see the Hacknernews thread.

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