RSS API for IE7 – now we’re talking!

I'm sure this is abundantly apparent to anyone leafing through the articles on this site that I'm a big fan of RSS. Microsoft is finally starting to make some noise in this area, and it's the start of something big. Take a good look at what's happening right now in RSS, because in five years, this is going to make SOAP look like a fad.Ok, some really brief history for those new to RSS:

  • RSS began as a news syndication protocol. News-oriented sites could encode summary info about articles with links to their sites. This allowed "subscribers" to have a "Slashdot news" block on their site. Great viral marketing for both parties. Notice that this is strictly a B2B-type interaction.
  • With the advent of blogs, RSS started getting personal. More sites began using it, and more readers wanted it. Enter the RSS reader (RSS Bandit, NewsGator, etc.). It's now common for people to track dozens of feeds, and RSS feeds begin to displace email newsletter subscriptions. The practice of using RSS just to link back to the "real" article begins to fade (put your content in your feed, or don't bother me).
  • Podcasts. Did you know what a podcast was a year ago? 'Nuff said?

So here we are, early in 2006. What more can happen with RSS?

Lots, really. We're really still in the "early adopter" phase of RSS growth. Microsoft's push will help that along nicely. FireFox has already started to ramp people up on the concept of RSS, and IE7 will accelerate that growth. But there's a lot more to Microsoft's capabilities than are apparent at first.

Check out a couple links from Microsoft:

Using the Microsoft Feeds API This shows the API for the RSS feed that IE7 uses. Not too sexy, but you can see that the API is reasonably comprehensive, and it's getting built into IE7, which will eventually ensure that it's ubiquitous.

Simple Sharing Extensions for RSS and OPML This one's quite a bit fuzzier, but if you squint at it sideways, you can make out the shape of a killer platform. Let me explain:

The point of SSE is bi-directional synchronization. The thing about RSS to-date is that it's been strictly unidirectional. Publish-subscribe. Or don't subscribe. That's it for options. Now, you start opening up the possibility of synching back and forth, and things start to get interesting.

RSS is about to exit the "news" business.

The thing that makes RSS work is the ability to share "articles" in a universal format. As we've moved from news to blogs to podcasts, we're stating to see RSS used to publish "items" instead of "articles". The ubiquitous availability of RSS and the existence of a synching protocol for RSS mean that we've got a kick-ass collaboration engine just over the horizon.

There's a new calendaring app that's hit some Microsoft blogs recently: 30 boxes. Right now, it's best-known for its great use of AJAX, but it's also built to be able to share calendars, and this can give us a great glimpse into what's coming in a big way as RSS matures. Imagine subscribing to someone's calendar using an RSS mechanism, and then being able to update items. Obviously, there's a little matter of security to deal with, but the concept is pretty powerful.

When you consider the online-offline multi-client capabilities that RSS shows right now, this is going to really open up collaborative apps on a new scale. You can imagine how this works for a calendar. Open up the idea of "items" to include contacts, to-do's, etc., -- I hope we'll see stuff like this in the next Outlook. Hopefully, you can see this extending to enterprise stuff, too -- CRM info, stuff that's landing on portals right now, and so on. Clearly, none of these are things that can't be done now, but most of them are things that aren't being done because it's too difficult for users. The next generation of collaboration will marry the ease-of-use of today's best apps to the resilient, flexible infrastructure that RSS brings.

Now, the potholes. I already mentioned security. Versioning will need to be addressed. And finally, the scalability and reliability of Microsoft's RSS store will be mightily tested when this starts to take off. I expect the RSS store to turn into the new registry -- a brilliant idea that ends up being used for stuff far beyond its initial intended use. It'll probably need a little time to be able to handle everything that's going to be thrown at it.

Remember, you heard it here first.