Microsoft, RSS, and Ethics
June 27, 2005 at 7:18 AM
So after my previous post I have had a few discussions with Robert Scoble, Nick Bradbury, Jeremy Wright, Tristan Louis, Andru Edwards and others about the announcement of the RSS Extension. After quite a bit of clarification I can only say that what Microsoft is doing is pretty much inevitable. RSS is big game today and Microsoft needs to be a part of that for survival. I do not believe that Microsoft is forking the RSS spec, but you have to ask at what point does the extended version become the de facto, and where does that leave the standard spec? I mean, after all, Windows is the most popular operating system on the planet according to many sources. When something gets introduced into that environment it becomes the de facto standard. I can’t blame Microsoft for not being all supportive of using only the Atom format. That would be like Walt Disney deciding to use Beta only at a consumer level because the format is a better format. Microsoft needs to focus on what formats are dominating the syndication space. Lastly, we can’t complain about what is going to happen until it actually happens. Microsoft hasn’t done anything, yet, it’s just been a lot of talk and some demos. Once we see it in action, once we see the details of the attribution, once we see how they plan to implement it within software, then and only then can we decide if the did things wrong or right. My advice to Microsoft at this stage would be simply this:
- Allow the extension to actually be created by the community, not by Microsoft employees.
- Setup free open-to-the-public forums for the community where Microsoft experts working on this project are available and actively participating.
- Open source the common RSS Data Store as proof that you will not lock-in users into a future proprietary format of MS-RSS.
- Define the attributions you are intending to set for the Creative Commons license you will use, but be careful, this could be a huge deal breaker with the community.
- Explain in great detail how the extension will work within your future software, I am afraid the information you have on MSDN and the demo videos I have seen are not nearly detailed enough.
With that said, we can only hope that Microsoft does the right thing here. It would be a huge change in the company’s philosophy and quite a deviation from their very long historical track record. The saddest part is that they could, in one small move, wipe out all of the software vendors who create RSS readers for Windows… yes, the very vendors who came to their aid and helped them figure out how to make this happen in some of the software they have. A utopian view, yes, I know, but Microsoft has its chance right here, right now, to change the way we see them as a company. They have a chance to re-establish ethical trust with the community at large. Let’s hope they don’t screw this up.
That's the bigger story, I think, "is the way we see them as a company." RSS in XP 3, yawn. RSS lists, whatever, but how MS is engaging the bloggers and trying to play nice, that's the real story.
I'm not holding my breath
One could think that MS is thinking longtime business profit planning - not "being nice to bloggers", "ethical trust" and that sort of good vibration words? Do they care? They found out that RSS is here to stay - now they wanna use/support it in their operating system. I want my mother to use RSS, and now she might actually do it! That's a good thing. And yes, I see the bigger picture - maybe MS will steal a lot of thunder, but that's not news to me. Small companies/personas have great ideas and a/the community develop it. Big companies take over - and make it commercial. By the way: Windows is not the most popular operating system on the planet - it's the most widely used operating system on the planet.
I just posted my own brain-fart, er, pithy analysis on this subject over at http://www.trotternet.com/archives/2005/06/gnomedex_wrapup.html. Check it out. The bottom line regarding this RSS announcement is this: Microsoft knows that they've lost the trust and support of developers by their past behavior, and that they need to earn it back for their own long-term survival. I think they are going to toe the line on this one because everyone will be watching them. And they must know that if they screw this up, no one will ever true them again. IMHO, of course.