I've been following all the hullaballoo about the Echo Project. Unfortunately there's been more flaming than at a dragons convention. But one of the few calm voices amongst all the hot air is Jon Udell, who today wrote a brilliant essay that got right to the heart of what RSS means.
Jon reminded us that technologies such as RSS are all about helping ordinary people "communicate more easily and more effectively". That's what web technology can achieve...although perhaps in the Echo debate we're not eating our own dogfood :-)
The challenge for web technologists in 2003 is to develop tools that enable people to write structured content for the Web. Once non-technical people can easily do this, we've taken a major step towards the Semantic Web. As Udell puts it:
"Ideally XML, not raw ASCII text, would be the stuff that was written, and refactored, and then mined to produce coherent views. We have no tools that come close to enabling that to happen.
Such tools, combining the power of XML with the flexibility of freeform text, and operating on a universal canvas, are what will really drive mainstream adoption of a two-way Web."
Dave Winer has done an awful lot of work to get us to the cusp of the two-way web. He created a weblog authoring tool and he co-invented personal publishing standards like RSS and XML-RPC. But most of all, it's Dave's ideas and his vision for a two-way web that I value. He is carrying on what Tim Berners-Lee started. As Dave wrote earlier this year:
"Like a lot of technologies people told big stories about something called hypertext, but until Tim Berners-Lee came along there really wasn't something for ordinary people to use. He pushed aside a lot of hairy technical issues, didn't even try to solve them, and cobbled together something that was brain-dead simple and incredibly ugly, and it worked and it was wonderful."
Tim Berners-Lee always wanted a read/write Web and Dave Winer has done more than most to help make this dream a reality. So I hope people lay off Dave and let him do what he does best - create solutions for real people to use.
Jon Udell is also doing a great job in elucidating what we really need in order to achieve a Semantic, two-way Web. Regular people don't want to hear lots of flap about formats and APIs. What we want are easy-to-use XML-based writing tools, and applications to manage our information and subscriptions. Now that would make Mr Safe real happy!