Atom Syndication Spec Ready for IETF Closeup

A key backer of the alternative content syndication format argues that the time is ripe to push for IETF approval.

Work on the new Atom content syndication format is almost done and ready for review by the Internet Engineering Task Force, a key backer announced Friday.

Tim Bray, technology director at Sun Microsystems Inc. and primary voice behind The Atom Project, has given the thumbs-up to the draft format and is proposing that the working group submit the specs for IETF ratification without further delay.

"The [format] is already substantially better and cleaner than any other known syndication-format specification thats out there," Bray wrote on the Projects wiki. "At this point, the Atompub working group would best serve the community, not by further polishing of this draft, but by giving it over to the IETF for review and implementors for experience and feedback."

In an interview with, Bray said his note was an attempt to nudge to the IETF Atom Working Group to avoid wasting time trying to invent new stuff. "There are some folks in the working group that suggest we need to do a lot more work, but I disagree. I think its ready and thats the point I made with that post," he said.

Bray followed up his wiki entry with a post on his Weblog where he warned against wasting time. "The worst thing the Atom WG could possibly do would be to spend another year or two trying to invent wonderful new syndication goodies. What on earth would give us the idea that were smart enough to predict what features the world is going to want?" Bray wrote.

"Our job is to write down what we already know works, to do it as cleanly and clearly as possible in as few pages as possible, then get out of the way," he added.

The Atom Projects work has led to bitter acrimony in the content syndication space because it is seen as a replacement for the popular RSS (Really Simple Syndication) format championed by Harvard fellow Dave Winer and embraced by some of the biggest technology firms.

Winer, who is credited with co-writing the RSS format, has publicly proposed a merger of the two competing standards to create a backwards-compatible format.

However, the Atom Project pushed ahead with its work within the IETF, culminating in Brays latest suggestion. "What weve done in Atom-land is adopted the bits of RSS that get used and ditched the ones that dont get used," Bray said, adding that there still are problems with RSS that need addressing.

On his Scripting News blog, Winer shot back: "[I] find the benefits of the possibly-final Atom to be vague, and the premise absolutely incorrect."

Winer pointed out that RSS has already been widely deployed, successfully, by users of all levels of technical expertise. He said tech heavyweights such as Apple Computer Inc., Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and media outlets such as The New York Times, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and the BBC were already using RSS to shuttle XML-based content to users.

/zimages/5/28571.gifSome Weblogs and technology Web sites are rethinking the way they publish their RSS feeds as they find that frequent requests from newsreaders can strain their resources. Click here to read more.

Bray declined to be drawn into a tit-for-tat with Winer. "I have no comment on Daves remarks. RSS is tremendously successful and I dont see this as a contest between Atom and RSS, at least not in the short term," he said.

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