Who is your audience and what are you trying to accomplish?

Recovered from Wayback Machine.

Just posted the following over at RSS-Dev (edited to remove typos):

There seems to be three separate threads running along the lines of “Who are we and what are we trying to accomplish”, mixed in with proofs and justification of keeping RDF in the mix. How can the energy expended into these threads be coalesced into a determined course?

I asked the question, here and elsewhere, who is your audience? This isn’t marketing or make work. This is a genuine attempt to understand what this group hopes to accomplish other than working with cool technology for the sake of the technology. What is the business of this group?

If RSS, past and current, is based on providing syndication and aggregation feeds, and nothing more, than I agree with those that say RDF adds nothing to the mix, and not because RDF adds complexity — the reason is because the business of RSS isn’t necessarily compatible with the business of RDF.

In the last few weeks, Phil Ringnalda has been working on a application to process RSS 1.0 files and combine this with FOAF to provide a sophisticated interface allowing us to find who has posted or commented on what topic. Yesterday he hit what is probably the core difference between the business of RSS and the business of RDF — the fact that tools generate labels for blank nodes, and that these labels will vary each time the same file is parsed. (See RDF/RSS (RSS 1.0) has blank nodes.

RDF is a meta-language for describing items that exist in such a way that this data can be processed with the same set of tools and combined with a great deal of confidence that this mergence results in a valid pool of rich data. It is literally a markup version of the relational data model, and as such, is extremely useful and necessary to help with the chaos that XML created. However, there is an implied persistence to the items described with RDF, the same as there is with relational databases. Data may change and be removed, but there is no temporal self-destruct attached to the items.

RSS, as the majority of those who view it (the users, not the tool developers) is a syndication feed — nothing more than recently updated items that can be polled and aggregated. There is no implied persistence. In fact, the business of RSS is based on impermanence.

This is a major difference in ‘business’ between the two concepts. From a database perspective, this is equivalent to using an RDBMS when a flat file of comma-delimited data is all you need.

If this group wants to continue providing a specification that defines syndication feeds, then it needs to consider that RDF not only doesn’t buy the group anything — it can harm the tool developers that use the spec. (Not to mention that trying to use RDF inappropriately can actually negatively impact the acceptance of the RDF specification.)

If, however, this group sees that what they’re working on transcends throwaway syndication feeds, then it needs to formally define exactly what the business is _before_ trying to create a spec that implements it. Hence my questions: who is your audience and what are you trying to accomplish?

Specific instances of technology aren’t an answer to these questions. This isn’t answered by, “Well, we’ll just continue as is and use XSLT to handle any problems in the future” or “We’ll use modules”. If you find yourself answering these questions by referencing technology, then either you’re missing the point, or (more likely) I’m doing a piss-poor job of explaining myself.

What is the problem this group is trying to resolve? What is the benefit this group is trying to provide that no other technology or specification provides? Who is your audience? Not the tool developers — people don’t write tools for no reason. Who are the consumers of the tools developed?

What are you trying to accomplish?

This understanding of the basic business goes beyond a name, though the name of ‘RSS’ is drastically adding to the problem by forcing a type of business on this group that this group really doesn’t want, as well as adding an element of competition that is both unnecessary and harmful.

Perhaps this group really isn’t interesting in throwaway syndication feeds. Perhaps this group is interested in finding ways of describing publication units that may or may not be smaller or bigger than an individual web page, and a side benefit of this is that the data can be used for aggregation purposes. Or not. I don’t know — the group hasn’t told me what the business is.

If you continually have to justify the use of something over and over again, either you’re wrong, or your audience is wrong. In either case, you need to re-focus your efforts, and either find a different audience, or stop beating a dead effort.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email