Atom is an alternative format to RSS for publishing an XML-based syndication feed.
Weblogs and news Web sites commonly use these feeds to send instantaneous headlines and summaries of news postings and stories.
Both RSS and Atom provide a similar format for syndicating Web content in XML feeds to other sites and aggregation software called readers.
While the formats grew in popularity with the rise of Web logging in recent years, they also have gained converts among major Web publishers.
For example, Yahoo Inc. in January 2004 began adding features for searching and aggregating the XML feeds.
In spite of quarreling amongst proponents of either format, major publishers have started to embrace both.
After having decided early on to support Atom rather than RSS in its acquired Blogger Web logging software, Google Inc. recently reversed its snub and is now offering users both RSS and Atom.
Microsoft Corp., for its part, is incorporating RSS into its upcoming IE 7 and Windows Vista.
Beyond the sniping thats gone on between format loyalists, the IETFs (Internet Engineering Task Force) working group summary shows that the group experienced its own bickering to arrive at an approved standard.
"Some members of the working group remain unenthusiastic about some sections of the document, but the chairs strongly believe that there is rough (or better) consensus in support of the document as a whole," the the IETFs summary reads.
"For some of the parts with the most contention, there cannot be more than very rough consensus due to basic differences in the way people would design parts of the format, particularly given that we have many models in existence with the different flavors of RSS," the IETF continues.
For example, contention surrounded the question of whether particular items should be in the Atom core versus residing as extensions.
Also, there was contention within the working group regarding how much leeway should be given content creators with regards to given elements or the semantic content of an element.
"The group really pushed RFC 2119 around during the past few months," the IETF said.
Proposed standards are considered IETF standards. Within coming months, the RFC Editor will produce an RFC (Request for Comments) number for Atom 1.0.
The standards official text can be found here.