Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Structured data via RSS

I’ve been rolling around in my head for a while now about the best way to publish structured data via RSS. My primary use case is with syndicating data between websites, especially social networks like Brazen Careerist. I like the idea of pulling in a feed that has more information in it then just the rendered HTML. #

I started thinking about this again after reading Dave Winer’s post WinerLinks and outliners because Dave provides structured OPML data for all of his blog posts. Looking at his RSS feed I noticed that he references these OPML files in each item with a scripting2:source tag which is defined in the Scripting2 namespace. #

The only problem I see is he defines the tag as a link to the OPML source for the story behind the item. This is accurate for his use case, but what if the source for the item isn’t OPML? In the RSS 2.0 Specification they have an enclosure tag which is what’s used for podcasting. It would have been nice if the scripting2:source tag emulated the enclosure tag and required length and type in addition to the URL. This way if the source of my item is a CSV file, and Excel Spreadsheet or any other type of structured data we could link to it and the feed readers could potentially do something interesting with it. #

Obviously there is nothing keeping me from creating my own RSS extension or just using the scripting2:source tag to point at something that isn’t an OPML file. I’d just prefer to do things the “right” way and not create another tag that is so similar to this existing one. #

Technology delegation vs abdication

This is a reply to Why Gen Y is Smarter, From a Gen X #

We are becoming more dependent on technology. The use of a GPS like they mention in the TechCrunch article is a good example. GPS is great since it allows you to get to places very easily without having to carry a ton of maps around. If you miss your exit or hit a detour you can get back on track quickly. However, if the GPS has invalid information or stops working many people would be completely lost, unable even to backtrack the way they came. #

The risk is not that we’re outsourcing the storage of knowledge and facts, rather we’re outsourcing our thinking. Sometimes that’s a good thing. If you have a GPS that is getting a real-time feed of traffic conditions it may direct you a quicker route then you would have gone on your own. Mathematica can solve problems for you in seconds that would have been impossible or time-consuming if done by hand. We still need to have the ability to interpret the results we’re getting so we know if it’s accurate or not. We have to trust that the GPS map data is accurate but at the same time compare it to what we see in front of us. We don’t want to drive off a cliff because the GPS tells us there is a bridge there. #

Another problem I see is that the internet allows us to live within our own bubble. Prior to the internet, if you wanted to read the news while you drank your coffee in the morning you had a choice of a handful of newspapers and magazines. Even when you selected the newspaper that resonated with your preferences (liberal vs conservative for example) you were exposed to a variety of stories about many different things. Now with news aggregation, you could spend all day only reading news stories about how great Apple is. Before, even if you didn’t read all the articles you probably absorbed something from the headlines. It’s never been easier to isolate yourself in a world that doesn’t challenge your beliefs. #

The way we consume information is changing. I find it’s difficult to read long-form writing because I’m used to scanning headers and bulleted lists on the internet. I think this is bad and I should work on correcting this issue. If I try to read a book and find that my mind is wondering and unable to focus I will probably put the book down and do a Google search to find the abridged version. #

At the end of the day, we’re evolving to use the tools that are available to us. It will be a problem if a catastrophe occurs that takes down the internet and cellular network. With card catalogs on computers if a city lost power we wouldn’t even be able to find information in the physical books in our libraries. Heck without GPS we probably wouldn’t even be able to find the library. This isn’t very different from our reliance on cars. If you choose where you live based on the assumption of having a car, you have to balance that with the risk that someday your car might not be available. #

Published by Andrew Shell on and last updated .