At the ETech 2006 conference, Tim Bray, Director of Web Technologies at Sun Microsystems, explains the why, how and what of the Atom web syndication format. Atom, an alternative syndication format to RSS, is meant to address various shortcomings and quirks that are unlikely to be addressed in the RSS format. Though, with 27 million existing feeds, two million of which are updated every week, one might ask why one would change a good thing?
Bray, who assisted in the formation of the Atom specification, outlines the most pressing issues with RSS 2.0. RSS itself is a fixed specification, and therefore can no longer be changed; any new work would have to be done in a different project under another name. It is clear that working on a new syndication specification is not as easy as it may seem, however.
As Bray puts it, working with otherwise perfectly reasonable people, syndication standards leads to seriously nasty behavior. Working on Atom has been a significant undertaking, and has produced more than 17,000 e-mails, totaling over 60MB of e-mail archives. Looking back on his experiences with Atom, Bray discusses the process of producing a standard and the lessons learned.
Tim Bray managed the Oxford English Dictionary project at the University of Waterloo in 1987-1989, co-founded Open Text Corporation in 1989, launched one of the first public web search engines in 1995, co-invented XML 1.0 and co-edited "Namespaces in XML" between 1996 and 1999. In 1999 Bray founded Antarctica Systems, and served as a Tim Berners-Lee appointee on the W3C Technical Architecture Group in 2002-2004. Currently, he serves as Director of Web Technologies at Sun Microsystems, publishes a popular weblog at tbray.org, and co-chairs the IETF AtomPub Working Group.
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