Phil Gyford


Saturday 21 August 2004

PreviousIndexNext Euro Foo Camp: Ben Hammersley - Better Living Through RSS

Debonair man-about-town Ben Hammersley talking about what he’s been squeezing into RSS.

Almost everyone in the audience uses RSS, surprise, surprise. The RSS spec has settled down because some people have got fed up and left the argument. Q: So it’s stabilised at 1.0, right? [Laughter] There are apparently around 13 different versions of RSS. [Not *that* stabilised then.]

Kinja attempts to remove RSS from syndication. Non technical - passes the “Granny test”. No acronyms, simple, pretty. Kinja is in beta, but FeedBurner is in “pre-Alpha”. They take your RSS feed and add in features, eg, will turn your feed into every other RSS format, give you stats about who clicks on links, make it browser-friendly so it doesn’t look like XML if someone views it, splicing services so your Flickr and pictures/links can be added into your feed, Amazon links in your feed will have your affiliate id added automatically. Going to be commercial - interesting because it’s a commercial service off something “mind-boggingly techy”. RSS has matured into something people are putting money into.

Everyone who uses computers for a while realises that if you do something repetitively it’s worth automating.

Not using feeds for news, but for “chunks” of stuff. Another thing that’s chunky? Email. - an email to RSS convertor. No password, so completely insecure. Any emails sent to your address are added to an RSS file. Extremely good thing for announcement-only mailing lists, signing-up to websites, etc.

Gmail to Atom scraper - not quite working yet. Puts things in his Gmail inbox into an RSS feed. It’s possible to treat feeds as their own primary source, not a representation of an existing information source.

Because you can put HTML into RSS entries, you can start creating web-based applications within RSS feeds. eg, with his Gmail script, which displays the contents of each email in an RSS entry, what would it be like to include links that let you reply, forward, etc to the email withing the same RSS entry? The interface for the application (Gmail) is within RSS.

Discussion with audience. Could more stuff be embedded in RSS to contain more of the application in the feed? Ben: You really don’t want to try adding more features to RSS, given the difficulties with settling on standards. [Webb said something probably very clever but I was fiddling with something else. Damn.] Could you put links to run javascript in the feed entry? Big security risk. How do you stop people accessing a feed that has links in that do stuff? Use https and password protect it. Danger: People currently share their list subscriptions, which is a security problem if they have usernames and passwords in them.

Webb suggests playing games (eg, chess or go) through RSS, say at A game would be at Each player has their own feed ( and gamerss.game1/hash2), showing their next move - fill out a form, submit. You can see the history of the game in RSS, other people can watch.

RSS is no longer just a weblog syndication format, but for delivering results from CGI scripts and holding applications.

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