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Web syndication stuff: The garden of the forking paths around RSS

This is the second tip in an ongoing series by Ed Tittel on the Web syndication specifications, tools and technologies.

This is the second tip in an ongoing series on the Web syndication specifications, tools and technologies. In the previous tip, we introduced the general subject of Web syndication and took a look at the Resource Description Framework, or RDF, specification, which this week's subject – namely, RSS – expands into Really Simple Syndication on one side of the fork (and includes versions 0.91, 0.92 and 2.0), but also as RDF Site Summary on the other side of the fork (and includes version 1.0). This time around, we're going to dig into the subjects of RSS versions 1.0 and 2.0, especially what makes them different and why you might choose one over the other. You'll also get a cool reading list of additional resources on this sometimes knotty but always interesting topic.

Here, in a nutshell is what makes RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0 decidedly different beasts:

• The evolution of RSS 0.90 to versions 0.91 and 0.92 and ultimately version 2.0, was a conscious and deliberate decision to make things simple and to avoid the complexities of RDF and the use of XML namespaces.

• The development of RSS 1.0 was viewed by one group of developers (sometimes known as the O'Reilly crowd because of its affiliation with O'Reilly publications and Web sites) as an elaboration of RSS 0.9 through an RDF Site Summary Working Group, which produced the RSS 1.0 specification, through a conscious and deliberate decision to create what Tony Hammond calls "a truly extensible support for namespaces and plugin modules."

• The development of an RSS 2.0 specification followed as a reaction to the guiding principles of RSS 1.0, as a kind of counter-specification in fact, that sought to build on what had been done for RSS versions 0.91 and 0.92.

Just to make things more interesting, RSS 2.0 creator Dave Winer has declared RSS 2.0 to be the end of that particular line of work, which has been picked up by a group of developers as a different line in the XML specification named Atom (the subject of the next tip in this series, by no coincidence whatsoever).

RSS 1.0 is generally for those who work with feed editing and parsing tools that either require or understand its formats. This distinction usually rests more on the XML skills and sophistication of the user rather than the technology. RSS 2.0 is generally for those who hack RSS out at least semi-manually, if not more so, and is regarded as more simple in its structure, syntax and capabilities by comparison with RSS 1.0. A lot depends on the syndication tool you use, but since many of them can deal with RSS 0.91, RSS 0.92, RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0 and Atom 1.0, related tools, interests and knowledge also weigh pretty heavily on this choice.

Additional Reading:

RSS 1.0 vs RSS 2.0 vs Atom, by Eric Lunt, CTO at FeedBurner (an ad network operator for more than 20 different blog networks) and somebody who certainly knows and understands syndication technology and tools.

History of the RSS Fork (covers July 2000 to November 2000, but includes some important stuff and what separates the tines of the fork, if you don't mind a cheesy pun), by Mark Pilgrim. This includes a lot of interesting back-and-forth from some leading proponents of the pro-RDF and anti-RDF factions, of which the long post from Dan Libby is worth reading from stem to stern.

Why Choose RSS 1.0?, by Tony Hammond for O'Reilly Media's, nicely represents the interests of the RSS 1.0/O'Reilly camp.

About the author

Ed Tittel is a full-time writer and trainer whose interests include XML and development topics, along with IT Certification and information security topics. Among his many XML projects are XML For Dummies, 4th edition, (Wylie, 2005) and the Shaum's Easy Outline of XML (McGraw-Hill, 2004). E-mail Ed at with comments, questions or suggested topics or tools for review.

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