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RSS gets down to business

Free tool for sharing calendar data on the Net is one of the first nonblogging uses of Really Simple Syndication.

Primarily the province of bloggers, RSS is moving into the business realm, with the release this week of a new application for sharing calendar data over the Internet.

Developer John Pacchetti released a trial version of RSSCalendar late last month, and the free application has quickly become one of the first nonblogging successes for RSS (Really Simple Syndication), the standard behind Web logs and news aggregator feeds.

RSS applications let online publishers automatically send Web content to subscribers, giving readers a powerful tool to compile news headlines on the fly from several sources at once. The RSSCalendar program allows a user to convert and publish calendar data as an RSS feed. Friends, co-workers and customers can subscribe to the calendar feed and automatically receive notices of new appointments, which can be viewed through an RSS reader or imported to a Web-based calendar or Microsoft Outlook.

"It's a project I created just from considering some of the uses where RSS could be a good vehicle," said Pacchetti, a Cincinnati developer specializing in military applications. "Calendars seemed like the most relevant use I could think of. I've built some pretty complex calendar systems that are Web-based, and this was a way to take a new approach."

Pacchetti said he wanted to use RSS to simplify what should be a fairly basic process. Sharing calendar data now usually means using Microsoft's Exchange Server or a complex Web-based calendar tool.

"The whole goal is to simplify something the software industry seems to make more complicated than it needs to be," he said. "Certainly, Exchange is not within everyone's reach."

RSSCalendar items can be converted to the iCal and vCal formats, which are readable by Web-based calendars and Outlook, respectively. Pacchetti said he's working on ways to make Outlook integration more automatic.

"In the future, I'll have a plug-in that works with Outlook, so you can push items to RSSCalendar," he said. "I'm gradually throwing as much stuff in there as I can. People have really great ideas after using the software, and I still have a lot of stuff I want to add."

Blogging pioneer Dave Winer developed RSS several years ago as a way to automatically receive new chunks of frequently updated content. The format has caught on primarily for keeping track of Web logs and news sites, but developers see applications for many other types of dynamic content, from e-mail to server status reports.