The latest in weblogland is the discussions surrounding Echo, a new format for weblogs. While the idea initially sounds good (“hey, a new format… that shows progress”), I’m not sure of the general direction. There are a number of question surrounding the effort.
While the weblog world is generally very insular (thinking of blogs as a different beast from the rest of the web), the concepts surrounding a weblog are nothing new in terms of publishing. Basically, a blog is a tool that allows to publish content easily and presents it in a particular fashion (generally as a set of entries presented in reverse chronological order).
echo: the new RSS?
Part of the success of weblogs stems from the fact that they are generally offering syndication capabilities using one of the many flavors of RSS, a format first developed by Netscape, and then extended by Dave Winer. In 2000, a rift in the RSS community created two divergent standards, RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0. RSS 1.0 was developed as a lightweight multipurpose extensible metadata description and syndication format. It sounds suspiciously like what the echo crowd is trying to do and makes the name almost prescient (as in “is echo just an echo of RSS 1.0”)
According to the echo roadmap wiki, echo is a new weblog format (Echo) that is:
- 100% vendor neutral,
- implemented by everybody,
- freely extensible by anybody, and
- cleanly and thoroughly specified.
I find this interesting as those were some of the goals of RSS 1.0.
So the question remains as to whether developing a new standard from the ground up makes sense when other extensible standards are available and could be extended to meet new requirements.
echo is for entries?
However, echo stands for more than just syndication. As part of the model, there seems to be a clear drive to define what an entry is. Other efforts like newsML and ICE seem to be going after the same goals. When it comes down to it, an entry in a weblog is not that much different from an article or other piece of content. To come up with a new format will only further the insulation of the blog world from the rest of the world. Why not use and extend some of the appropriate formats?
echo is vendor-neutral?
This one actually amuses me. No successful standard has ever been vendor neutral. Even the current iterations of such web standards as HTML and CSS were born out of the will of larger players in the standard groups. To assume that a standard will ever be vendor neutral is like saying that alcohol is not bad for you. It may seem true on the surface but deep in the bowels of standard groups, vendors yield a tremendous amount of power. If, for example, one of the largest players in the blog tool world says that the format should head one way, that player will be listened to. If a smaller player makes the same suggestion, people will look to the largest player for initial approbation. It’s basic human nature.
echo will not be political
I wish I could share in the enthusiasm of the echo founders regarding this. However, sooner or later, I suspect it will get political. Standards groups always do and I fail to see how the echo world will be different. Eventually, something controversial will happen and everyone will look to Sam Ruby to make the call, as he was the one to set up the wiki. At that point, Sam will make some people unhappy. They’ll yell that it’s all because Sam is a tool of the other group and it will quickly degenerate from there. I hope I’m wrong on this and wish the best to all involved.
On supporting Echo
If something good comes out of it, I will eventually support echo. No, let me rephrase that, I will definitely support echo (I do, after all, support all the other major blog syndication formats out there) but am not sure of what will happen with it moving forward. I hope that something good will come out of it and only want to highlight that there are a few things to look at before thinking of building a new world.