By giving its blessing to XML syndication, Apple is joining the trend of browser makers embracing Web news feeds and potentially bringing the technology to the masses.
Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs on Monday previewed the companys next version of its Web browser, dubbed Safari RSS. RSS refers to the acronym for Really Simple Syndication, the major format for XML syndication.
Safari RSS will allow users both to aggregate feeds directly in the browser as well as to automatically detect when a feed is available on a Web page. As demonstrated during Jobs keynote at Apples Worldwide Developers Conference, an “RSS” icon appears in the browsers address bar when a feed is available. By clicking it, users can read and subscribe to the feed.
But Apples Web browser is neither the first nor the only one to support syndication feeds. Opera Software ASA introduced RSS support with its latest browser, Opera 7.50, released in May, and the Mozilla Foundation is planning a feature to bookmark feeds with its Firefox 1.0 release later this year. Safari RSS is scheduled to be available with Apples next Mac OS X release, code-named Tiger, planned for the first half of 2005.
Web browser support for syndication feeds has the potential to overcome one of the technologys hurdles—the multistep process often required to discover and subscribe to feeds, proponents of the technology said. Today, software applications called newsreaders often require users to copy and paste the URL of a feed into the reader after they have found a site with an “XML” icon.
If Apple brings the user focus it is known for to its browser-based feed reader, then it will help to popularize XML syndication, said David Sifry, CEO of Technorati Inc., a San Francisco-based search service of RSS feeds and Weblogs.
“People will understand what the heck this RSS thing is all about,” Sifry said. “As technology moves from being engineering-focused to being user-focused, theres always a leap that has to occur where somebody makes it easy enough for the average user to finally understand why all power users have been so excited about it.”
But even with three major Web browsers supporting syndication, the majority of users wont have feed-reading capabilities in their browser. Together, the three browsers account for less than 6 percent of the market, according to analytics vendors OneStat.com. While growing, Safari has only a 0.71 percent share.
Microsofts Internet Explorer, with 94 percent market share, has no support for reading or aggregating RSS feeds, and company officials declined to discuss whether it is planning any future support. But the Redmond, Wash., company previously has indicated that Longhorn will include RSS aggregation.
“Ultimately, what matters is what Microsoft does with Internet Explorer,” said Dave Winer, the co-author of RSS, who expect Microsoft to eventually include RSS support in a range of products.
For now, though, Apples push should help spur more interest in XML syndication feeds not only from users but also from Web publishers, Winer said
“Basically, a lot of users are going to get RSS now,” Winer said. “That means publishers will be rewarded for having been visionaries. It will provide an incentive for more publishers to support RSS, and it will certainly get other tech companies looking at how to leverage RSS in their offerings.”
Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is using RSS as a blanket term for both various versions of the RSS format as well as the rival format, Atom, all of which it plans to support. Opera also is supporting various versions of RSS from 0.90 and higher, according to its Web site. Mozilla plans to support multiple versions of RSS and Atom, Firefox lead engineer Ben Goodger said.
The browser makers are all taking various approaches to incorporating feeds into the browser. Opera, of Oslo, Norway, has added RSS support within its mail application, handling feeds like e-mail messages. The browser also can detect pages with feeds, and users can click a sites XML icon to automatically subscribe.
Mozilla, based in Mountain View, Calif., plans to include its news feed support with the beta release of Firefox 1.0 in about six weeks, Goodger said. The new feature will let users save and organize feeds within the browsers bookmarks, which will display an updated list of feed items. Firefox also will display an icon or prompt to indicate that a Web page has an available feed, Goodger said.
“This builds RSS right into browser and access to it right where you discover it,” Goodger said.
Web browsers moving into the RSS aggregation arena raises the possibility of them replacing standalone news readers, an issue that was gaining the attention of a range of Webloggers on Monday. Syndication technology has found much of its earliest converts among bloggers.
One of the major readers for the Mac, NetNewsWire, appears to be ready for Safaris entry in the market. Developer Brent Simmons wrote in his blog Monday that development will continue on NetNewsWire and noted that Safari doesnt appear to be as fully featured as a full reader.
Safari RSS is set to include the ability to search within subscribed feeds, a feature Simmons wrote is also coming in the next version of NetNewsWire.
“This will trigger a shake-out in the Mac OS X newsreaders market,” Simmons wrote. “There are a dozen or so readers right now, but by this time next year there may be Safari and just a few others,” including NetNewsWire.
Technoratis Sifry said he expects RSS-supported browser and news readers to co-exist and possibly attract different types of users. Other readers for the Mac OS X include PulpFiction and Shrook.
“Well still see a lot of innovation in the RSS aggregation world,” Sifry said. “This is just another great way for people get introduced to RSS.”
Editors Note: This story was updated to include more background information on Microsofts RSS plans.