Wednesday, November 08, 2006

New uses for RSS / Atom

RSS, like its web standard sister Atom, was designed to support syndication across blogs. By opening up the data behind a set of blog entries, information could easily be shared across the internet without manual copy-paste or messy screen scraping.

Due to the massive growth and enthusiasm for blogs, all manner of technology to support RSS / Atom is now commonly available - downloadable client news readers, website based news readers, blogging sites, browser toolbars, even integration with the Vista operating system.

But like all great technology, RSS / Atom is useful for a lot more than initially realised. In fact, it's becoming one of the foundations of the web. Here are some examples:

  • Business Process alerting engines: use a feed reader to monitor queues and automatically escalate exceptions via email, IM, SMS or VOIP.
  • Document Management: replacing user-generated content in Windows Explorer and other document management systems with a set of RSS / Atom feeds. This allow for syndication, tagging, search, subscription, separation of presentation from content, and integration with internet technologies like CSS, HTML, the URI, and javascript.
  • Synchronization: Using RSS / Atom to manage automated synchronization, for example between Blackberry / iPod and a PC, or between a PC and internet sites
  • Email / Calendar / Contact storage: using simple extensions to RSS / Atom, it's possible to store emails, calendar entries and contact information as a native XML feed. This can replace the dreaded .pst file, bringing the same advantages as Office XML formats did over the old binary files.
The common theme is that RSS / Atom is an internet-based approach to managing sets - whether sets of files, of emails, or of blog entries, it handles them all.

Several extensions to RSS / Atom are in active development (as extensions, these work best with Atom which is namespace aware): Atom Publishing Protocol, to handle updates / deletes as well as simple views of data; SSE, to handle synchronization between feeds; and Gdata, to allow for native email / calendar / contact storage.

But even without these extensions, it's clear that over the next few years, RSS / Atom will become one of the most important foundations of the web.

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