Atom evolves despite RSS transfer

A key sticking point in the debate over Weblog-related standards was addressed last week when UserLand Software transferred ownership of its RSS 2.0 specification to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.

A battle has quietly simmered for months over the protocols that fuel the online publishing software. RSS has emerged as a de facto standard, but it is now being challenged by a separate effort, dubbed Atom, designed to shore up some of the technology's shortcomings.

The specification's transfer removes the copyright restrictions from RSS 2.0, allowing it to be customized, excerpted, and republished using the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike license, according to a statement posted on the Harvard Law Web site.

In addition, an independent advisory board was formed in an attempt to expand public understanding of RSS and to further the development of RSS applications.

"This is a big step in the right direction and addresses one of the concerns with RSS," said Tim Bray, chief technical officer of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Antarctica Systems and co-inventor of XML.

"This makes the intellectual property concerns go away. The great fear was someone would come along and buy UserLand, and get the copyright," Bray said.

However, the debate is likely to continue, as will development on Atom, because ownership of the RSS specification was only one issue at hand.

Other concerns cited by critics include too many versions of RSS, lack of an open API, and insufficiently precise definitions of the syntax and semantics.

Meanwhile, work on Atom is proceeding, said Sam Ruby, a member of IBM's Emerging Technologies Group and one of Atom's developers.

"I think the Atom project remains important and its potential contribution very great," Bray said.

The initial members of RSS' independent advisory board are Dave Winer, author of the RSS 2.0 spec and fellow at Harvard Law School; Jon Udell, InfoWorld Test Center lead analyst; and Brent Simmons of Ranchero Software, author of NetNewsWire.

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