marketeers embrace firefox || MAIN || pcworld stats

August 15, 2005

rss is a silly name

Guess what I'm about to do? Yep, I'm gonna defend Microsoft.

Apparently there are people up in a huff about Microsoft going with the name "web feeds" rather than "RSS" in upcoming IE and Windows releases.

What a joke! Are you serious?! "RSS" is a horrible name and almost anything is better. You don't use an "HTML viewer" do you? No. You use a "web browser." You don't use an "IMAP/SMTP client," you use an email client. Complaining that the feature isn't going to be popularized based on the protocol or file formant name is just plain silly.

Firefox supports RSS in bookmarks but we don't call them "RSS bookmarks." We call them "Live Bookmarks." We display RSS feeds in the content area but we call them simply "feeds" in our UI. RSS is a geeky name that no regular user should ever have to know.

Oh, and see Scoble's response (which I mostly agree with.)

Posted by asa at August 15, 2005 06:34 PM | TrackBack

I tried to learn RSS syntax once so I could put a feed on my site.

I was left wondering why the middle "S" was there.

Posted by: ant on August 15, 2005 06:58 PM

A better reason not to call newsfeeds "RSS": Atom 1.0!

Posted by: Screwtape on August 15, 2005 07:40 PM

I'm surprised as well -- one can understand that having constant battles against misused formats can harm your tolerance levels, but I also see no damage in this. This isn't a name change. And it's absolutely in the best interest of average users. And it is in the best interest of software producers as well!

When Microsoft talk about "Web Feeds" they probably don't talk about RSS; they talk about the idea behind it. I don't see why they wouldn't add another slightly different format to the current mix of RSS+Atom specs, so in my opinion the list of actual formats will rather increase than decrease.

These are interchangeable formats, and nobody can guarantee which of them will be used in n years. RSS is far from being a new HTML; it might not survive, but the basic idea certainly will. RSS is just an implementation.

When I talk about RSS or Atom I usually call them "feeds", and until now I thought most people do so as well, Winer etc. included.

Posted by: mardoen on August 15, 2005 07:43 PM

I couldn't agree more. It's implementation bleeding through to the user. Bad.

Posted by: Simplex on August 15, 2005 08:13 PM

it's not podcasting, it's blogcasting.
it's not RSS, it's webfeeds
it's not java, managed code

No, you can't use the two words IS and NOT concatenated, it's patented technology.

Why don't they just put microchips into everyone and control them all from their xbox. That's what they want anyway.

I hate microsoft, I hope they all go to hell.

Posted by: Beer on August 15, 2005 08:17 PM

As for the term itself, terms don't matter. Terms don't make or break a technology.

If RSS is the popular term, then it should be used. If people call podcasting, podcasting because of ipods, and that's what popularized them, then fine.

Don't brainwash people to use generic words because you want control over people. That's dumb. Only a retard would even think of that.

When I said I hope all microsofties go to hell, I am excluding Scoble BTW. All the rest can go to hell though.

Posted by: Beer on August 15, 2005 08:38 PM

Beer, in general, your comments aren't very productive here and so I'm asking you to try to make your comment more constructive or go somewhere else.

- A

Posted by: Asa Dotzler on August 15, 2005 08:50 PM

I agree with you Asa. As much as I enjoy computing and knowing all the nice terms that go along with it, such information is useless to someone who works in a completely different field.

An elementary teacher has, usually, no use for the knowledge of the differences between Atom and RSS, so why should she see different names? She shouldn't. Microsoft is the success that it is mostly because they have become quite good at making things easy for those who do not care about and-or need to know about the technical side of things.

The technical differences mean something to the "above-average" computer user, but to the rest - they don't care at all. So why should Microsoft draw attention to the differences when all they will do is confuse the majority of their user base? They shouldn't.

Posted by: Vil on August 15, 2005 09:15 PM

Beer, I'm sorry, but after reading most of your posts, I _have_ to ask: How old are you?

Posted by: Solster on August 15, 2005 09:36 PM

I didn't know I was supposed to be productive and or constructive in commenting.
Your blog posts aren't constructive either in my opinion, but since this is your blog and you have the right to try to get rid of people who disagree with you, I'll just post elsewhere.

Posted by: Beer on August 15, 2005 10:03 PM

Beer, you're absolutly right. Who cares how it's called. Seriously i don't give a **** how it's called as long as it does what it's supposed to do.

Posted by: NS on August 16, 2005 12:31 AM

You have to look at the "people" who are in a huff though. Oh look, it's Dave. The person who huffed when other people extended RSS to make it useful, the person who introduced the version number confusion, the person who won't seem to admit ATOM exists.

Dave is the RMS of the feed world, everything has to be his way, his naming convention.

Funny how he didn't dare to speak out against Firefox though, I guess MS is the easy target, that way he won't get the rabid fanboys pointing out how wrong he is. He's becoming more and more irrelevant.

Posted by: barryd on August 16, 2005 01:00 AM

The only right thing is to either call it web-feeds or call it xml-feeds. RSS-feeds excludes every other format that exists today as well as future ones. Why not call all feeds Atom instead, since it's far superior to the others (and annoys the hell out of Dave Winer)?

Dave Winer wants everyone to call the technology RSS, yet he himself has only those pesky orange XML-badges. What's up with that?

Posted by: Patrick on August 16, 2005 01:24 AM

Asla, I think you're obvservations are spot on, especially re IMAP/SMTP.

Barry D. can't help agreeing with you too. Winer is clearly a very clever guy and a brilliant architect. He always makes it very clear who he's interested in designing for though and it's not the general public it's "intelligent users". Personally I think his use of the term is actually pretty insulting to a lot of people and he should say what he means which is "interested users".

"What term could we use that most describes what a web feed is for the general audience - RSS, XML or ATOM?"

- lol, makes me imagine Sony and Dell sat at a table discussing:

"What term do you think is going to be the most meaningful public word for a laptop, Vaio or Inspiron?"

(Patrick - Winer actually made a post that explained the XML badges yesterday)

Posted by: Peter Nixey on August 16, 2005 01:32 AM

Normal users don't want to load up their "RSS Aggregator" they want a Feed Reader. Also it isn't just RSS there is ATOM as well. Does that mean that sites which have two feed formats (RSS and ATOM) that the end user needs to subscribe to both? I hate seeing sites offering RSS and ATOM and RDF, etc. I just want to click on a feed and it load in my feed reader. This is why I like the feed:// protocol. It is simple and normal users can relate to it like they do http:// (which is that they know nothing about it but know its something to do with the web).

I hope the generic term does change from RSS to site feed or something similar. I can't ever see RSS becoming as big as email unless it gets a catchy name, not an acronym.

Also to Beer...

* it's not podcasting, it's blogcasting

You are right, this is stupid but Microsoft don't want to advertise the iPod which podcasting does. Its simple business.

* it's not RSS, it's webfeeds
It should be web feed or site feed. RSS confuses the user. They get used to the term RSS but what about sites that use ATOM feeds (like Don't give the end user choice. Nobody cares about what format the feed is in as long as it contains the site info they are looking for.

* it's not java, managed code
Again JAVA was the name of a platform owned by another company. Microsoft couldn't use the name JAVA without Sun getting upset.

I understand why you talk the way you do but I see no problem with Microsoft wanting to use different terminology. You can keep calling it RSS if you want. I don't care but don't be surprised when you get emails from people saying "I can't find your site feed".

Posted by: Morgan on August 16, 2005 01:33 AM

I think, the problem of RSS, Atom or whatever is not the name, but the mess of different standards. Who knows the differences between RSS 0.90, 0.91, 1.0 and 2.0 and why they are not compatible?

A * feed reader is supposed to understand all standards, so it's no difference for the user which one he uses (or the reader could choose the best one). That means, a common name, like "web feed", is a good thing.

I am more worried about Microsoft's extensions to RSS...

Posted by: Tobias on August 16, 2005 01:36 AM

OTOH RSS feeds are still firmly in the domain of the geeks; with almost no-one in the real world knowing what they are. So whatever you call them is fine BUT renaming them every few months can't be good for the uptake/acceptance of the general public.

Posted by: Michiel on August 16, 2005 01:41 AM

Thanks, Peter, for the link.
What kind of format a site uses to publish its feeds in should be totally transparent to the end-user. That's why the term XML or web feed should be used instead of RSS, Atom or whatever.

Posted by: Patrick on August 16, 2005 01:58 AM

As a sidenote, Opera (as one of the first to implement RSS support into the browser) calls itīs RSS support "Feeds" as well (guess what - they donīt support RSS only as well). And nobody cares (thatīs probably because only professionals use Opera).

Posted by: Patrick Schriner on August 16, 2005 02:10 AM

I agree, we call them 'Web Channels' rather than 'Web Feeds' but the reasons are the same, 'RSS' conveys nothing to the user about it's use.

Posted by: Neil Stansbury on August 16, 2005 03:24 AM

Since Dave Winer did a lot for this technology (and other technologies) for a long time, it's a Good Thing to at least listen to him thinking aloud about the long term implications of this issue.

Listen to his podcast here:

Beofre you jump on me, let's make it absolutly clear that what I write here is an *explanation* of what Dave Winer is saying and not *a defence* of his position.


What Dave is saying is this:

First Microsoft is using another name for RSS. Let's say "web feed".

Then they change the technology and create their own private technology for doing what RSS does. They will want people to think that because a "web feed" stood for RSS, the new technology which is also called "web feed" is also RSS, which is not.

Next, if anyone outside of Microsoft will want to use the Microsoft "web feed", they will have to play to the sound of the Microsoft flute because what was a stadard is not anymore.

Go listen to the podcast and reconsider.


Posted by: Hanan Cohen on August 16, 2005 04:24 AM

I agree totaly with Beer.

First, the reason they are changing the name is NOT to make it more understandable for the end user.They are vhanging the name to be able to PATENT the protocol and to eventually put Firefox out of business. If you are one of the credulous innocents who believe that MS has been patenting so many things for which they have contributed nothing is simply to "protect itself" as a corporation, then you are less than stupid.

MS does it like this:

1) ...they take (euphemism for steal, rip-off) an application, protocol, procedure from the pool of shared material...
2) ...they rename it...
3) ...they laugh at your inexcusable credulousness and stupidity...

Posted by: Glanz on August 16, 2005 05:17 AM

I agree that it's more useful to call things like this as "feeds" or "web feeds" as they propose. RSS is just one of several specifications out there. While it's propably one of the first around it's still just implementation of idea. And the main motivation behind idea is that you should be able to get information about new content more easily.

Posted by: Daniel Schildt on August 16, 2005 06:23 AM

I don't agree with Beer at all (and rarely do). RSS is a completely meaningless term to anyone but geeks. Stop being selfish. The web is for everyone.

Posted by: Ben Basson on August 16, 2005 06:52 AM

I personally agree. RSS isn't a great name.

@ant: not sure how you can find RSS to not be simple to integrate. It's perhaps the simplest markup ever created. I've implemented it (and validated) in under 5 minutes in a few cases. You can't beat that. IMHO time to wip out the book on programming and read it.

Posted by: Robert Accettura on August 16, 2005 07:44 AM

Asa Dotzler is a silly name as well, but it works, right?

Posted by: Spion Kopje on August 16, 2005 07:57 AM

If you ask me, RSS is simple to anyone who has experience with html.

As for the new name, it is more descriptive, but it's just another name for the same thing that'll confuse people. I can see it now: "What's the difference between RSS, live bookmarks, and web feeds?"

Posted by: Tom on August 16, 2005 08:01 AM

I agree that they should be called something other than RSS. RSS is a geeky acronym and not the only way feeds can be presented. It's like using "Ford F-150" to describe all cars.

And as for RSS being simple to anyone who knows HTML... Try writing a RSS parser, or even using one of the more mature ones like Mark's Python implementation. You'll soon see how many feeds have badly formatted dates, no links, empty titles, or aren't even valid XML, causing the parser to explode.

Posted by: Ben Sinclair on August 16, 2005 08:23 AM

Well you listen to MP3s, don't you? Talk about a meaningless name.

I think it's better to still with RSS, so we have a common vocabulary.

Posted by: Joe Grossberg on August 16, 2005 08:41 AM

may be we should repeat the contentious blog: rename rss contest!

What’s in a Name? RSS and Attitude.

it seems some discusions have deja vu feeling!

Posted by: pheloxi on August 16, 2005 08:55 AM

Joe, actually, I listen to "music" and I listen to "books on tape" and I listen to "radio programs".

- A

Posted by: Asa Dotzler on August 16, 2005 09:02 AM

"As for the term itself, terms don't matter. Terms don't make or break a technology."

Beer should try telling that to the people who coined the term "Ajax".

Completely agree, Asa. It's a usability issue, and I'm happy to see Firefox on the right side of the debate.

Posted by: ceejayoz on August 16, 2005 09:21 AM

Let's see if I have this straight:

Firefox, Opera, bunches of other places refer to them as feeds. And have for a while. No one is upset.

Microsoft IE7, newly released *beta* product, also refers to them as feeds, doing what Microsoft often does -- copying others. Everyone is up in arms, like it's a new idea from the "borg".

Give me a break.

Posted by: Peter Schroeder on August 16, 2005 09:59 AM

Bottom line in this debate:

(1) Consumers understand abbreviations like "DVD", "VCR", "HD", and "MP3". A three-letter abbreviation is *not* a problem for the public.

(2) The problem is that "RSS" isn't a clearly defined thing. A "DVD" is a disc that contains high-quality video. A "VCR" records video to a tape. "HD" means my television looks and sounds better. "MP3" means individual songs on my computer. But "RSS" means... dozens of different things. It's auto-updating bookmarks in my browser, it's a newsfeed in something called an aggregator, it's a chunk of content syndicated across hundreds of websites, it's Dawn and Drew piling up in iTunes, and so on.

If it were possible to boil RSS down to ten words or less, then "RSS" would be the ideal brand. But in reality, RSS is way too useful in too many contexts to ever be successfully summed up.

Posted by: Roger Benningfield on August 16, 2005 10:03 AM

RSS is just fine. How come the world started pissing about this now? Why not years ago when it was first introduced?

Posted by: Sinan on August 16, 2005 01:48 PM

I don't think regular users would even use RSS or care to know what RSS or ASS is. Web Feeds is a way better description than R-eally S-imple S-yndicate.

Posted by: Guest on August 16, 2005 01:54 PM

Not all consumers understand abbreviations. "DVD" vs. "VHS" has taken years for some people I know who just want to know how they can rent and play "a movie", while many don't understand "MP3" at all to this day. (And I don't _like_ pervasive usage of "MP3", especially when I expect things to actually BE MP3s and then find they are .ra or .wma or whatever. As Asa said, I listen to music, not MP3s. Specifically, I listen to Apple Lossless, .ogg, .mp3 and sometimes .mpc files. Use an exact term when you mean the exact term, not otherwise.)

Terms DO matter. Terms make or break all kinds of things, and if you don't understand this you've never tried marketing. "Web feeds" and similar are both more friendly AND more accurate than the specific (and cryptic) "RSS", and therefore are superior terms. This is a no-brainer.

Posted by: Peter Kasting on August 16, 2005 02:31 PM

As an epigraph: Opera calls ’em “feeds”, but in the Opera’s address bar glows blue RSS button… Just so you know. ;)

As for the matter, I somewhat agree, somewhat disagree. As it has been brought up, people are fine with CD, DVD, xerox, cleenex or durex. Conventions happen. It might be good to call something humanistic way, but in reality, for novice the term “web feed” is no better than “MPEG layer 4”.

Think of the semantics of this phrase? What is feed? How can you read a feed? Have you met people who had seen actual teletype in person? Even further—what is web? Are there spiders abound? “Web” is more geeky than anything. I don’t know why we still put “www.” in the address. I don’t, and I get real annoyed when website wouldn’t work without it, but regular people can’t think the address without it. We all talk here what’s best for a regular person, without even considering what are they like.

As for RSS, the major part of it is the third “s”—syndication. Cause that is what it is. Exactly in the original newspaper sense and then some. RSS is syndication, Atom is syndication, any content feed is syndication. Live bookmark, by the way—not necessarily. It just gives you a headline, but doesn’t actually syndicate a content.

And from a position of recognition, the word “ar-es-es” sounds as fine as “deeveedee”. But looks better in three-letter form on a recognizable button of course.

Posted by: theUg on August 16, 2005 02:49 PM

By the way, Really Simple this Syndication is mainly for user, not for feeder, although it would certainly help.

And yet again, the standards. Yea, I wish there were standards so we would get away from all that proprietary-patented-American-crap. But how can we get to the standards when we even have no single standard promouter? Talk about ISO, W3C, IETF and other groups.

Posted by: theUg on August 16, 2005 02:59 PM

Excuse me while I get into the html graphical user interface for my 802.11g wired networking hardware conglomeration...if everything looks good in there, this group of ascii characters in the text area of this http posting device just might be transmitted over tcp/ip and appear in 008708.html, which lives in the archives partition of the user space dedicated to asa, which stands in the weblogs subdomain of mozillazine, which resides under the .org top level domain.

Posted by: Yacoubean on August 16, 2005 10:22 PM

"Then they change the technology and create their own private technology for doing what RSS does. They will want people to think that because a "web feed" stood for RSS, the new technology which is also called "web feed" is also RSS, which is not."

Stop extrapolating.

"First, the reason they are changing the name is NOT to make it more understandable for the end user.They are vhanging the name to be able to PATENT the protocol and to eventually put Firefox out of business."

Stop extrapolating.

Jeez, Microsoft improves the name in their upcoming OS, and the tinfoil hats come leave the woodwork. Save these comments and the fury until Microsoft have been evil about this.

Posted by: Jug on August 17, 2005 01:21 AM

People are being stupid here. RSS is a single standard. Web Feeds, Live Bookmarks etc. are an implementation to allow people to use the RSS standard and others. A 'Web Feed' is a generic term to describe a multitude of different, well, web feeds. For MS to call their technology RSS would be just wrong (and people would be up in arms about that too).

It's a bit like having a go at people for saying HiFi rather than CD player/Radio/Graphic Equalizer/DAB/8 Track/...

Posted by: Jupiter Moon on August 17, 2005 06:54 AM

A "tinfoil hat" is more becoming than a sycophanting Microsoftie's dunce hat, awarded to obsequious and valiently ignorant defenders of criminal monopolists.

Posted by: Glanz on August 17, 2005 08:04 AM

Amen to Microsoft. They aren't doing this because, as one paranoid poster said, they want to patent the technology (at this point the history is too well established, they wouldn't be able to), they are doing it to generalize and simplify things for the web user.

Let's go over the many types of syndication formats in use:
RSS 0.9, 1.0, 1.1
RSS 0.91
RSS 2.0
CDF (yes, still seen in current use)

No user wants (or really needs) to figure out what type of feed they are getting, whether they have support, etc.

Considering most, if not all of the major feed readers have support for all of these formats (okay, maybe not CDF), wouldn't it make sense to simply generalize them? Heck, they all do the same stuff, they just do it differently. And the end user doesn't even see the internals, only the developer, and he/she knows the differences and obviously distinguishes.

Gee, instead of being stubborn and assuming that regular people have the time or energy to figure this stuff out, why not just call them "web feeds"? Yeah, people go on, subscribe to a person's "web feed" and then have the information delivered right to them.

Or, we could ask them to download a RSS 2.0 compatible news aggregator and then input your feed into it. I think the former solution is far easier for the person to understand.

I applaud Microsoft. They do a lot of stupid things, but I completely agree with this. If we want to make computers and the web a much more integral part in our society, we need to realize that it needs to be clear and concise, not technical and complicated.

Good job Microsoft, with this effort you have my vote.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 17, 2005 11:11 AM

Hey, Geeks are Geeks and people are people and they are quite different. 5% means nothing to people, but 1 out of 20 means a lot more, a Geek sees these as the same numbers, most people do not(Why do products cost $99.99 instead of $100? Because $99.99 is perceived as lot less than a flat $100). It's all marketing. RSS is a terrible thing to call it to normal people, they've got enough acronyms to worry about, WWW and FTP and that's more than enough.

Posted by: Joseph on August 21, 2005 01:01 AM


Do you remember there are also people (lots of them!) who don't speak English?

If you go for a name like "Live bookmarks" this makes for a lot of trouble because it has to be translated into every single language and oftentimes it's translated in the way you can't actually understand where the translated name comes from. It's very often for geeks to read manuals/docs in the original because they can't make out anything of the translated text.

If we stick to RSS, it will be the Good Thing because:
- the same name will be used worldwide and thus contributing to wider adoption
- it will be easy to pronounce for non-English speakers

The second point is especially important and I wish Mozilla didn't use such horrible names like Thunderbird because they are just meaningless unpronounceable bunch of letters for average folks in the non-English speaking world. My sister can't talk to me about Thunderbird because every time she is to pronounce the ^@$#%@#$% name she has to use a descriptive phrase instead.

Posted by: Marek on August 22, 2005 09:55 AM

Hey, that last fellow Eastern-European (neighbour practically) post does make a good point as well. Really, world does not stop at American borders. ;)

By the way, phrase “live bookmarks” is easily translated in Russian, maybe Polish and many other languages, but even then it is still isn’t clear for a layman what the heck it really is. There is learning curve in any case.

Any linguist will admit, that words are merely proxies, conventions on certain ideas, images or things, and they don’t have fixed deciphering behind them. Any word or phrase can have numerous meanings, and those are constantly changing during the developmental processes within languages. Phrases like “live bookmark” or “web feed” are semantically dubious, whether you like it or not. And that is nevermind other languages or the very context itself.

Posted by: theUg on August 22, 2005 06:47 PM

I agree. Being geeky for geeky sake is fine. But my Mother-in-law don't care. And when she starts using Firefox/Thunderbird/Linux/etc. and does not notice or care, OSS will have become truly successful.


Posted by: rczik on August 23, 2005 10:34 AM

Post a comment