Feed-based Architecture? Um.

WARNING: This is a long post. Proceed with caution.

I have been absolutely overwhelmed with emails in reaction to Fred Wilson’s Post, How to Widget? In this post he asserts that the distributed media world should be powered by a single platform that revolves around feeds. Fred has since made a follow-up post entitled “Monetizing Widgets.” In this post, he clues us in to who he thinks should fill this role. Can you guess who it is?

Rather than respond to the gagillion requests piling up in my inbox, I figured I would take a crack here. Let me preface this by saying that I think Fred is a sharp guy. I enjoy his blog and think he has some interesting insights. That being said, I just can’t resist. 🙂

So here is a quick summary of his points:

1. Many leading widget solutions don’t support a feed-based architecture.
2. Widget syndication systems must be built on top of a feed-architecture.
3. There should be a single platform for all media syndication.
4. Feedburner is moving into widgets, so everyone should give up.

Many leading widget solutions don’t support a feed-based architecture.

What does that mean? Feed-based architecture? Well, since I don’t really know, let’s talk about RSS for a bit. First off, most media companies we talk to say only 2-3% of users actually subscribe to their RSS feeds. And this is after RSS has been pushed for over 8 years. From a development perspective, RSS simply does not make sense as the de facto RPC (remote procedure call) for distributed media. Why? The format is optimized for read access and for news stories. Perhaps most importantly, most widgets are XML-driven applications. The Clearspring-powered widgets for Time, CBS, NBA, NBCU and more are driven by XML. So how do widgets not support feeds?

Widget syndication systems must be built on top of a feed-architecture.

Well let’s assume that feed-architecture means RSS. Tell Google, MSFT, and Yahoo that XML-RPC, SOAP, and all the REST (chuckle) need to be phased out because the world “must support a feed-based architecture.” Call developers and ask what they think of the only programmatic mechanism to access data being RSS. I doubt that they would be comfortable with that.

There should be a single platform for all media syndication

That would be nice. And, there probably will be a couple platforms that companies use to syndicate various types of content. However, I am pretty sure that you can become a pretty big content syndicator/distributor without having a core-competency in feed syndication. Ever heard of a company called YouTube? I think they did just fine, don’t you?

And this leads us to…

Feedburner is moving into widgets, so what’s the point?

I get that he needs to pitch his own investment. That’s cool. In fact, I will help him. I L-O-V-E Feedburner. I use it. Furthermore, they have a great team. But just because they are good at RSS syndication, it does not mean that they are just going to magically take over the widget space. We have spoken with the CTO of Feedburner. Eric saw an early version of our platform. Fred can ask him how the technology requirements for application syndication/distribution are different than those required for RSS syndication.

Anyway, that and $1.25 will buy you a cup of coffee. I hope you enjoyed our show.

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hoomanradfar Written by:

  • Great post, couldn't agree more.

  • Hooman,

    I think you are reading too much into my post last night and too little into my previous one.

    Sure I'd like to see FeedBurner extend their value proposition into widgets and I think they will. But I don't think that people should simply "give up" if they do.

    I do think that RSS and the other feed oriented architectures provide the best publishing system for widgets. I am simply saying that I want a 'write once, publish everywhere" solution and I think widgets that are powered by feeds will do that best.


  • Wilson's "write once, publish everywhere" decree reminds me of Sun's Write-Once Run Anywhere campaign for Java. While the idea of a single system solving all cross-platform needs is wonderful in concept (and actually works pretty well for back-end code), from an interface perspective it results in less than optimal content presentation and user experience (how many great Java UIs are in the world today?).

    For folks who want to turn their blog into a widget (although I'm not sure why given all the other feed-collecting tools), yes, a widget system that can quickly turn feeds to widgets makes sense. But for orgs that seek a richer user experience, and certainly for media and entertainment companies, any attempt at a write-once publish everywhere approach will turn out like a Java UI … less than what they hoped for, and more work to boot.

  • Hooman Radfar

    Ming, thanks. I think that this is a really fun topic!

  • Hooman Radfar

    Fred, thanks for stopping by and for contributing your thoughts.

    I am still curious what you mean when you say, "feed-oriented architectures." I am not familiar with that term. I had originally thought you meant RSS, but in your comment you said "RSS and other feed oriented architectures." I am a bit confused. Also, if you did mean RSS, and how/why does RSS provide the best publishing system. What is the rationale – technically? I really would like to understand your position, given your extensive experience in the space.

    Also, I get the whole write once, publish everywhere approach. I have been pitching that for a long time. I just think it will take time.

    Anyway, if you have the answers to those questions, I would love to hear them. I really would like to understand…

    Thx! 😉

  • Hooman Radfar

    Jonathan, good to see your name on the old blog.

    I agree. The write-once, run anywhere approach is an ideal that the computing world has been trying to move towards for a long time. At Clearspring, we hold it is as a goal that we are aggressively moving towards through product development and partnerships.

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  • Love the blog, if i may ask, what software are you using? how much does it cost? where do you get it? If it's not a secret email me some details wouldya?

    thanks in advance!