BitTorrent and RSS Create Disruptive Revolution

XML syndication and peer-to-peer meet to extend the power and efficiency of Web-based information distribution.

Disruptive technologies are born for all sorts of reasons—good ideas, market pressure, economic opportunity, and sometimes just plain luck. Many of todays disruptive leaders only emerged when combined with other seemingly unrelated inventions. Wi-Fi and broadband (DSL and cable but not satellite) have prospered in a mutually symbiotic fashion. So too have weblogs and RSS.

For newbies, RSS feeds are XML text files generated by blogs, websites and other web servers that desktop clients—called RSS Readers or Weblog Readers—download on a set schedule, usually once an hour.

As RSS gains momentum, it begins to strain the boundaries of its current infrastructure. Feeds are increasingly containing full text, graphics, and even multimedia files. Strict constructionists are bemoaning the trend, suggesting that syndication is all about signaling rather than transporting. Those of us whove moved to RSS as the gateway to as much information as we can filter reject that notion.

It reminds me of the dawn of the Web, when Internet academics and geeks bemoaned the influx of the point-and-click crowd. Or the Notes administrator priesthood who kept the keys to creating new applications from us lowly users. Weblogs are just the most recent instantiation of that revolution, where users gained control of their pages, data, and voices.

Now we have the same argument from the entrenched Web crowd. RSS should just provide the abstract, the notification, the announcement of new content. But the ultimate target is the Web page, where eyeballs equal dollars. Its the old guard protecting last years business model – like the RIAA desperately poking a finger in the p2p dike or the MPAA outlawing the distribution of DVDs for Academy Award consideration.

Whos the Jack Valenti of this production? I hope its not Dave Winer, RSS founding father and author of one of the most popular RSS feeds, Scripting News. Notice I say RSS feed, not weblog. Since the day I first adopted an RSS reader (Radio Userland on the PC, NetNewsWire on the Mac), I have consumed Daves site through RSS.

Dave has always included the full text and graphics in his feed, but recently hes limited the entries to the current day. Im not sure why that is, but perhaps its because it limits the size and bandwidth usage of the RSS file he serves to his subscribers.

Note that my copy of NetNewsWire is set to download at the most rapid interval possible—30 minutes. Thats still not fast enough for me, relying as I do on RSS for timely notification of important posts. But bandwidth costs on popular sites like Daves make this kind of polling economically prohibitive. Or do they?

Heres how Dave put it one morning last week: "Now, should an aggregator be polling every 30 minutes? The convention early on was no more than once an hour. But newer aggregators either never heard of the convention or chose to ignore it. Some aggregators let the users scan whenever they want. Please dont do that. Once an hour is enough. Otherwise bandwidth bills wont scale."

To be fair, Dave goes on to say there are good ways to optimize polling, but that progress in the RSS community is hard to come by. Hes probably right – but Im not dissuaded by that daunting prospect. RSS has forever altered the way I acquire information, and its disruptive quality can surely bond with another such technology to conquer this bottleneck.

Next page: Revolutionary peer-to-peer program to the rescue!