As I watch the whole RSS explosion unfold, I can’t help but wonder if RSS will materialize into a more popular information payload mechanism than XML. It’s simple, and more importantly, it’s definition is far more narrow than XML.
We all know XML can do a lot of different things – transform information, represent remote procedure calls, etc. – but over time, RSS is going to become far more than just a way to get news feeds.
Take a look at how Yahoo decided to handle their REST-based maps API. It’s based on extension of RSS called GeoRSS. So how does it work? You simply pass in an RSS 2.0 file enriched with some geographical information (zip codes, latitude and longitude, etc.) and Yahoo hands back a nicely plotted map.
So why did Yahoo use RSS here? Well, I’m sure the team at Yahoo want people to understand and adopt their services as quickly as possible. What better way to do that than to leverage a popular and widely-understood standard. The alternative would have been to create their own home-grown XML format. This would leave developers with the unenviable task of wading through documentation, studying schemas, etc.
Of course, RSS isn’t for everything. Some payloads are simply too complex for it. Nevertheless, it’s becoming clear that one of the strengths of XML, it’s incredible versatility, is also one of its drawbacks. RSS isn’t as versatile but because it is narrowly defined, the learning curve is far less steep.
You can find a whole slew of creative uses of RSS (via extensions) at the RSS Extensions Wiki.