The Weblogging world, much like the rest of the universe, is awash in great ideas. Some take root and become part of the fabric of the Internet. Others live on mostly in flame wars. And the vast majority never amount to more than an archive on a moldering list server somewhere.
Weblog “ping” services and RSS fall into the first category—and perhaps a little into the second. Pinging services provide a way for Web site operators and bloggers to alert would-be readers to new content; the pings sent to services like Weblogs.com or Blo.gs are then leveraged by aggregators and other Web services to alert subscribers.
When pinging was introduced, it created a mechanism to help the bloggerati keep track of how fresh each others content was. It spurred more and more frequent Web posts when tools like Blogrolling came along, and allowed even the less-scripty among bloggers to order their list of frequent reads and blogfriends by who had posted most recently.
And it became the lifeblood of RSS-feed and blog-tracking sites like Dave Sifrys Technorati, which rely on the steady heartbeat of ping services to help them track millions of blogs.
But the idea of tying together aggregating and ping services into a “FeedMesh” is probably one of those good ideas that can only hope that it lives on as a flame war. It isnt because its a bad idea—its just that there isnt a whole lot of business incentive for the individual players in the small community surrounding ping and RSS aggregation services to want to collaborate.
While the syndication-standards wars of the recent past have died down a bit as of late, there are still enough bad feelings among some long-time players that any kind of group hug over update services is not going to get much momentum.
It isnt that there arent good technical reasons for a collaborative ping network, either. Ping and aggregation services are starting to hit something of a wall. Since theres really not any money in running them right now, theyre generally not run like a piece of Internet infrastructure.
Rumor has it that while Dave Winer, the founder and former head of Userland Software, was a fellow at Harvard Laws Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Weblogs.com ping server was running on a server in his rented house in West Newton, Mass.
Dave Winer, a blogging pioneer and industry iconoclast, didnt invent RSS—Netscape did, as the basis for its failed Netscape “channels.” But Winer and Userland shaped the development of RSS after Netscape lost interest in it, and he was at the center of the battles over the direction of Web site syndication over the last few years—often as much because of his personality as his position on technical issues.
While Winer is no longer directly involved with the RSS standard (which is now “open-sourced” under the Creative Commons license by the Berkman Center), he still runs the Weblogs.com service.
The Atom syndication format was started, by many accounts, mostly to have something that wasnt called RSS and didnt involve Winer. One of the partners in Syndic8, a participant in FeedMesh, is Bill Kearney, who has had several public blow-ups with Winer. Not that thats a barrier to FeedMeshs success—Atom seems to be doing OK, for example.
In the end, whether FeedMesh will come together or fall apart will depend on the economics of the space. With Blo.gs about to be acquired, and other aggregation and ping services now trying to find a business model around a service that Winer has run essentially as a charity for the past few years, how much competitors are willing to cooperate may end up depending on who the competitors left standing are—and where their money comes from.
Sean Gallagher is senior editor of Ziff Davis Internets vertical enterprise sites. Sean came to Ziff Davis Media from Fawcette Technical Publications, where he was editorial director of the companys enterprise software development titles. Prior to that, he was managing editor of CMPs InformationWeek Labs. A former naval officer, a one-time systems integrator and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Gallagher lives and works in Baltimore.