Google spurns RSS for rising blog format

The company chooses an alternative syndication technology for its Blogger service, leading RSS partisans to urge Google members to quit.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
Google's Blogger service is bypassing Really Simple Syndication in favor of an alternative technology, a move that has sparked more discord in a bitter dispute over Web log syndication formats.

The search giant, which acquired Blogger.com last year, began allowing the service's million-plus members to syndicate their online diaries to other Web sites last month. To implement the feature, it chose the new Atom format instead of the widely used, older RSS.

The battle between RSS and Atom has divided the blogging world since the summer, when critics of RSS came together to create an alternative format. Since then, a raft of blog sites and individuals have lined up behind Atom, while Yahoo has thrown its considerable weight behind RSS.

The Blogger decision to offer Atom only has angered supporters of RSS, who accuse Google of helping to splinter a wide network of RSS-using bloggers.

"They're breaking users, including people who aren't using their software," wrote Dave Winer, a Harvard fellow who is commonly considered the arbiter of the RSS format, on his long-running Scripting.com blog. "There is a lot of implicit trust in the RSS network, an assumption that vendors will behave rationally and will care for users. Any participant can break us, as Google is proving. But I believe in the fabric of the community. Either Google will fail, or Atom will be the new syndication standard."

Google confirmed that it is offering only Atom syndication capabilities to Blogger users. But subscribers who once used RSS with paid premium memberships will still be able to do so, it said. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company eliminated paid Blogger subscriptions on acquiring the service from Pyra Labs.

"Google is not taking anything away," a company representative said.

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RSS supporters argued that Google could have given members a choice between RSS or Atom, since Blogger already offers the older format. But Atom partisans lauded Google's move, saying it made sense in the context of the company's support for open-source software and open standards.

"RSS has long been controlled by a single vendor or entity," said Mark Pilgrim, an early contributor to Atom. "Atom's an open standard, so people can point at the spec and say they're conforming to it, and it's not controlled by one of their competitors. And RSS is. It's no surprise that the vendors in control of RSS are upset about this. Open standards benefit everyone but them."

Winer directed queries about RSS and Atom to his Scripting.com site.

In the past, Winer has answered charges that he exerted undue control over RSS by pointing to its transfer from UserLand, a blog software company he founded, to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, where he is a fellow. RSS is also now available for use under a "creative commons" license, which frees it from commercial copyright claims.

Atom contributor Pilgrim called the Berkman transfer and the license a "red herring."

"It means anyone can go create their own version of RSS," Pilgrim said. "That doesn't change anything, because the same people are still in charge."

Winer and other RSS supporters urged bloggers to abandon Google's service.

"A good way to provide feedback to the Google people is to switch away from them," Winer wrote on his site, citing a blogger who had suggested RSS supporters bolt from Blogger. "Let them make the connection that the day they started playing unfair, is the day the users started moving away."

Meanwhile, Atom backers are proceeding with plans to bring their technology under the auspices of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). IBM engineer Sam Ruby, who has spearheaded the Atom effort, was scheduled to address O'Reilly's Emerging Technologies conference on a proposal for IETF to assume responsibility for Atom.

Ruby could not immediately be reached for comment. But Pilgrim estimated that Atom, which dates back only to June of last year, would work its way through the IETF and be ratified as a "request for comment" draft no later than August.