Look Out, Outlook: RSS Ahead in 2004

You better watch out; you better not cry; you better not pout. Steve Gillmor is telling you why: RSS is coming to town.

Warning: The predictions you are about to absorb may be hazardous to your health—that is, if youre locked into an enterprise messaging and collaboration system circa 2000. Lets jump back into the Longhorn time machine and dial back to the immediate aftermath of the Great Y2K Messaging Marketing Migration.

Those were the days, when platform strategies were coached in terms like "URL-addressable," "Web Storage System" and the like. Out was cc:mail and MAPI; in was a collaborative nirvana that blended structured and unstructured data in the new-age corporate client—the browser.

But another major shift was underway behind the scenes: the transition of the Office suites focal point from Word to Outlook. Were still in the throes of that shift today, but Outlooks primacy as the hub of Office (and therefore the Windows desktop) is hard to ignore.

That is, hard for those still embedded in the view from Messaging Mountain. With IBM/Lotus and Microsoft each claiming an installed base of 100 million, its not surprising to see both vendors moving rapidly to absorb emerging communication and collaboration technologies into their messaging platforms. Thus, Lotus finally embeds Sametime instant messaging in the standard Notes client, while Microsoft does the same with Office System and Longhorns SideBar.

This is a game at which Microsoft excels—the waiting game. Clone, wait, collaborate, extend, wait, repeat, rinse, dry. But now comes RSS—and the rules may have changed. First, the enemy is now scattered, behind rocks, in startups, open source, virtual coalitions that pop up on IM and videoconferencing, and a myriad loosely coupled evolutionary steps forward.

Now for the predictions.

RSS information routers will emerge in 2004 with the following characteristics:

• Persistent storage of XHTML full-text/graphics/audio/video of RSS feeds
• XPATH search across local and Net stores
• Self-forming and reordering subscriptions lists based on the aggregated priorities of user-chosen domain experts
• Use of IM notification for post notification to aggregate affinity groups and active conversations
• Integration of Hydra-like collaborative tools for multi-author conference transcripts
• Videoconferencing routing and broadcast/recording tools
• Integration of speech recognition and real-time indexing to allow quoting of linear audio and video streams
• Mesh networked peer-to-peer synchronization engine for item propagation across shared spaces on multiple clients, including phones; iPods; and eventually Longhorn PDAs (circa 2006).

Armed with these tools, new industries will emerge in rapid succession:

• Metadata-driven directories that dynamically create RSS feeds based on affinity
• Virtual conferences
• IM/RSS presence networks for rich collaboration and e-mail replacement
• Content-generation tools based on small, routable XHTML objects
• A DRM network with enough creative and hardware support to blunt the Microsoft/RIAA DRM threat to peer-to-peer port hijacking.

Why is this a problem for Exchange/Outlook and Domino/Notes shops? Because Microsoft and IBM are wedded to strategies designed to maintain their installed base and revenue models. At best, Microsoft will deliver some of these capabilities via ISVs between now and Longhorn, while IBM must first wean its Lotus Business Partners off the Notes .NSF architecture to WebSphere and DB2.

While Redmond and Armonk fiddle, Apple burns—CDs, DVDs, iTunes, iChatAv, iSight, iMovie, iTcetera. Any delay works to the advantage of those who provide these services today while prying the Windows grip loose from the desktop. And dont underestimate the power of RSS to form and deliver targeted information to developer communities far more rapidly and with immediate ROI, particularly in the SMB market.

I dont need a time machine to be sure these things are going to happen in 2004—theyre already happening right now. A fluid alliance of Web services architects, open-source contributors, open-standards negotiators, entrepreneurs and inventors are making it so. Even the disenfranchised have a chance in this remarkably transparent ecology.

Its not too late for Microsoft to see the light. Its engineers already have. As the philosopher Billy Preston sings: "Nothin from nothin leaves nothin/ You gotta have somethin/ If you wanna be with me."

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eWEEK.com Messaging & Collaboration Center Editor Steve Gillmor can be reached at steve_gillmor@ziffdavis.com.