For Webloggers, sending notifications of new postings are like the street-corner sellers yelling the hot headline for metropolitan newspapers. With the rapid growth of bloggers and Weblog communities, its becoming increasingly hard to be heard.
But adjustments to a piece of basic RSS plumbing that is responsible for keeping readers informed of feed updates may ease the pain.
Some of the leading RSS search and aggregation services have begun banding together to build a next-generation approach for distributing update notifications to the syndicated feeds that are a core part of most Weblogs and a growing number of news and portal sites.
Called FeedMesh, the approach takes the dozens of ping services that exist today a step further by seeking cooperation among aggregators to share updates among themselves.
The idea for the initiative, which is being championed by PubSub Concept Inc., was hatched last year during an informal meeting of aggregators and other leaders involved in RSS and blogging.
“Its the kind of idea that fits the time and the nature of the blogging community,” said Bob Wyman, co-founder and CTO of New York-based PubSub. “If [sites] produce a feed, they are looking for syndication and are looking for as broad of syndication as possible.”
Ping services operate by receiving notifications of updates from blogs and then publicly posting those updates or adding them to a specific index. Ping services are both open to public view, such as Weblogs.com, and tied to individual search engines or aggregators, such as Technorati Inc. and Yahoo Inc.
Aggregators and bloggers, though, are starting to search for alternative approaches to typical pinging as the number of feeds being published continues to rise and as ping services proliferate among the competing search engines and aggregators.
PubSub itself tracks about 10 million feeds with FeedMesh, Wyman said.
Since the idea was floated, FeedMesh has turned into an active mailing list to discuss organizational and technical details. So far, participating RSS aggregators and search services include Blo.gs, BlogShares, Syndic8 and Blogdigger, which announced its involvement in April.
Currently, FeedMesh is handling about 15 to 20 notifications a second, Wyman said. For the most part, participants are reading the update notifications, but the eventual aim is for all members to equally contribute their notifications.
These updates come from more than ping services. Wyman said that about three-fourths of the feed update notifications on FeedMesh actually come outside of ping service based on aggregators and search engines crawling for RSS and Atom feeds and on relationships where a blog-publishing service directly shares updates with a specific aggregator.
Sharing with One Another
Technically, FeedMesh works based on a set of agreed-upon specifications where participants share their updates with one another, and the updates are pushed out to other members. It turns a process what has been based on feed aggregators actively polling for updates into a push model, Wyman said.
“What were really doing is setting up a shared understanding of procedures and protocols, and then we have a set of bi-party peering agreements,” Wyman said. “Its a very loose idea, and its a massively higher level of cooperation than we have ever seen on Web to date.”
FeedMeshs success, in large part, could hinge on whether or not companies that often compete with one another will be willing to cooperate in sharing information on feed updates. Wyman is confident, noting that rather than duplicate their efforts in finding updates, the participants could focus their competition on specific features and services.
A co-founder of Six Apart Ltd., one of the major makers of blog-publishing tools, agreed that cooperation among competitors is possible.
“I have faith that people will be able to collaborate and build a good aggregated system,” said Ben Trott, also CTO at Six Apart. “Weve seen other examples in recent times of aggregators and publishers being able to collectively come up with standards.”
Trott said he has followed FeedMeshs development and that it could help relieve the burden of blog-tool makers to continually build in support for new ping services.
But he also said that FeedMesh remains in its early days, and that he is waiting for more documentation on the details of the effort.
“From the publishing side, its less duplication of effort,” Trott said. “A ping service is a level up from having to tell everyone interested that you updated a blog, and FeedMesh is a level up from that because youre telling an uber-organization.”
For FeedMesh participant Blogdigger, a blog and feed search service, the initiative has allowed it to double the number of feeds it is monitoring and to track them more efficiently, said Greg Gershman, president of Baltimore, Md.-based Blogdigger.
“This is where things are going, and its much easier on our part if there are services that push updates to you,” Gershman said.
FeedMesh also carries extra information within its updates. They point to the URL of the actual RSS feed, rather than simply the blog site, as it often done in ping services, Wyman said. That helps save time and resources for aggregators and search engines.
Eventually, even by the end of the year, the full RSS and Atom feeds could be included within FeedMesh notifications, Wyman said.
FeedMesh isnt the only project emerging as an extension to ping services. A centralized hub for pings called Ping-O-Matic also has been gaining attention.
The service grew out of the community for open-source blog-publishing tool WordPress in March 2004, but it now supports additional blog tools such as Drupal and Textpattern, said Matthew Mullenweg, a co-founder of Ping-O-Matic and lead developer of WordPress.
Ping-O-Matic receives pings from blog-publishing tools as well as directly from blogs. It then passes those pings on to about 13 other ping services, by default. It also has an HTML interface wherein blogs can specify ping services with which to share updates, Mullenweg explained.
Ping-O-Matic is open to any service that wants pings and is aiming to simplify the process of notifying the ever-growing number of aggregation and search services. It also holds a different position in the market than PubSub, the main backer of FeedMesh which is also a commercial feed aggregator itself, Mullenweg said.
“Were trying to position Ping-O-Matic around the fact that it doesnt do anything with the data except pass it on, so theres no reason not to be fair and unbiased,” Mullenweg said.