Anne van Kesteren

Say no to XML buttons

I recently subscribed to Scripting News to see what all the fuzz was about years ago. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you might want to visit the archives of what is now some ‘retro homepage you kept in 1996 for your dog’ of a guy who is having trouble finding a new hobby and kept a weblog during July 2001 to October 2004. In short: Mark Pilgrim.

This morning I read a post that could have created some ‘fuzz’. It was written in response to a post from O’Reilly written by Marc Hedlund and it was about naming everything RSS, because the yet unfinished Atom already has a branding problem. While that’s interesting too I’m not going to comment on it here. Enough kitten fights already. Let me quote Dave Winer:

…I think his plan is good, but please use the white-on-orange XML icon, it's more common and more accurate.

Personally I agree with that they suck and cause confusion. Surely, we don’t want to confuse RSS with XML. It’s already dubious if you can call RSS an XML format if you see what’s out there. Instead of trying to improve this situation a bit, it’s actually suggested you keep using the conservative orange XML button to point to RSS feeds because that is what users expect. And there is a point behind that of course. In the past somebody made the wrong choice the whole web now has to pay for by following the wrong route. Here is that judgment:

BTW, the reason I chose XML over RSS for the icon initially is because the term XML was already getting so much publicity… So rather than add to the already overloaded lexicon, I said let's call this stuff XML


It’s the same as with the endless tiresome advocacy for XHTML. Because I now use HTML and I have knowledge about various specifications related to it, people will trust me and might copy my source code and get into trouble. Right. Some people go even as far to say that people will assume I write only in XHTML — in a sense, that is actually true — and think that by copying my source code they are doing the same.

Users are clueless, agreed. But I seriously doubt if there’s still need for that orange XML button promoted by conservatives. Eventually feeds will be transparent to the end user. They will see a fancy icon as done in Firefox, click on it, and find out that following a site this way is quite neat. Of course, they’ll learn this from the more technically inclined, but that’s with everything.

(Firefox is an example of the ‘perfect scenario’; although the implementation is buggy, the intention is good and eventually it will support things entirely correct. Safari on the other hand just calls everything RSS.)

By the way, do you know why RSS 2.0 has not been updated to RSS 2.1 to make it interoperable and safe from data loss? The sole reason is that Dave Winer wanted everyone to leave his format alone. That, and only that, is the reason I support Atom these days. Because before I read that a week ago on the Atom mailing list I often thought about RSS 2.1. (In my mind it was similar created to CSS 2.1 as I like that format.)

And to conclude with a nice quote I found underneath the XML button on Scripting News:

alt="Click here to see an XML representation of the content of this weblog."