RSS Syndication talk for XTECH 2005, how did it go?

RSS syndication for a worldwide audience - cheers Leigh Doods for the picture

In one word, Great!

I was very nevious that my presentation would be quite controversial and put a disclaimer up at the start highlighting this fact. But I really didnt need to because it was well recieved. Unlike my test runs at work and at home, I went though the slides nice and quickly stopping only for blasts of the nice ice cold water which was supplied. By the time I got to the nitty gritty of RSS and suggesting that RSS 1.0 was the best of a bad bunch the room had started to fill up. I believe there were about 40 people at the start and I ended up with about 60+ but I may be wrong, it certainly felt like more to myself. Something I also did which I didnt plan for was lots of talk around unicode directionality. I guess I was quite sparked up about it after talking to Shoshannah over email about the same issue. I expected lots of questioning about this point and typed up extra notes around this area but in the end didnt really need it, most of the audience actually agreed that its too much of a difficult area for most people and just as how RDF/A was created for those who would find namespaces too difficult for xhtml 2.0. Maybe there should be something else to define language direction. Shoshannah's example of software engineers deciding direction on encoding went down a storm just like yahoo's entity search. I saw lots of head nodding and shaking at the correct moments, so I expect my pace was good and the slide layout pretty good too.
One of the highlights in the question and answer session afterwards was from the developer behind ROME looking at his code and admitting that ROME never took advantage of xml:lang attributes right in the middle of the Q and A. Liam Quin activity leader of the W3C's XML activities asked me a very tricky question. What can the W3C be doing in this area to help? I was really stumped but suggested this maybe the time the W3C gets back involved in RSS development even if it means pissing off some people. This was about the time when Dan Brickley also got involved and talked about the problems in the past with RSS. They were both quite impressed that we choose RSS 1.0 when almost every single other news corp is using plain RSS 2.0. Dan suggested the problem with high versions numbers could also be the reason why most choose RSS 2.0. Which sounds hard to believe but I dont douht it so much now. They also both work on the RDF specification by the way, Dan also suggested a reference article should be written up about best practices in the area of languages and direction in RSS, something to be considered once I rewrite my final paper. My manager Deborah Cawkwell wrote this article about unexpected characters or blank lines and Why use the language attribute? as part of a this set of i18n FAQs, which I used quite a bit in research for my paper and presentation. So there is scope for doing one for RSS too maybe?
There was a question about ATOM and how we should get involved in the last call for version 1.0. I couldnt agree more, and thats an action point for futher disucssion just like the article idea from Dan. There should also be scope for getting involved in shaping RSS 1.1 or RSS 3.0 if it falls to the version numbers game.
There was criticism that I never settled on a clear solution for language direction and I take that on board and I believe we (BBC WorldService) should do something even if it breaks a good percentage of RSS readers. Its like Tom Loosemore puts it, just fucking do it. If we dont, then were just part of the noise, we need to step out and suggest a solution even if its not very popular or valid.
I can not remember too many more of the other questions but I got the main ones I believe.

So to clarify, everything went really well and even better than expected. The question I pose for developers to get involved and use our feeds seems to gone over quite well, and this would be even better if we do come up with a solution for language direction. Its something to work from and thats better than nothing at all.
If your interested in reading my presentation its available here. I have to warn you its about 4 meg big and requires Open Office 1 or 2 beta. I will supply a PDF and maybe a XHTML (maybe S5) version soon enough. My paper titled RSS Syndication For A Worldwide Audience is also available for reading online. Please be aware this is version 1 and its going to be re-edited soon with recommendations for solutions and additional resources.

Thanks to everyone which helped me in my presentation and paper, specially my lovely wife who put up with my stressing and endless nights of reading.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.