Web 2.0 is not a “push” web
During a coffee this afternoon with Renai Lemay (a great guy) we inenvitibly played a round of web 2.0 definition bingo. One observation made at that meeting that I thought warranted some further discussion is the subject of RSS (syndicated web articles) being described as the “push” web. In other words, the web is being pushed out to consumers, rather than them having to go and read new content. Whilst this is the visible result, RSS is by no means a technology built around asynchronous communications (i.e. pushing messages in two directions). Now I’m not just being a pedantic geek. I think describing it this way causes us to overlook some important opportunties.
Firstly, push messaging for RSS articles is a hugely under exploited area. Just like the difference between email and IM, there is a future where we will see RSS being forced down the wire in real-time to client software instead of the current periodic checking method (“pull”). Whilst pulling RSS is currently working well, why can’t we go that next step. There’s a big difference between IM and email; and email and a blackberry for that matter. This also leads to presence being a factor. How about RSS where it’s only sent if the user is online? Would work well for traffic updates.
Secondly, (are you still with me) RSS is simply an agreed standard for article markup. In other words, traditional HTML markup used in normal web pages is a big unreadable, unmanagable mess to wade through. Imagine trying to write code that walked through web sites and attempted to determine what’s “new”. RSS isn’t so much a format for pushing content, but a simplified publishing “protocol” — a dumbing down of HTML you might say (just the facts).
Now I know for most this is obvious, but my point is that by dumbing down HTML to a readable/usable format you create the opportunity that is RSS. This dumbing down will continue in the future in order to carry other types of data over the established subscriber channels (the feeds). Why doesn’t Amazon then publish a “new books” feed in a specific XML format dumbed down to just the facts on books. You could then read that with appropriate software and update catalogs and other databases. Ultimately this works for all sorts of standardised data that can be published by companies. RSS is giving us a channel for XML…