Atom & RSS Make Web Services Simple

Daniel Steinberg posts comments from a talk Adam Bosworth [from Google] gave at a recent MySQL users conference regaring web services and taking the simple approach instead of the complex approach. With programming [i.e. the web] simple is always the preferred route to take if at all possible, and it usually is. But we all know that's easier said than done, especially when we're dealing with complicated data. Web services standards, usually via xml, are meant to make our lives easier but in actuality they complicate things and add a lot of unnecessary overhead to data that can usually be returned in a simple csv file.

In his Thursday morning keynote at the MySQL Users Conference 2005, Google's Adam Bosworth suggested that we "do for information what HTTP did for user interface." Ten years ago, when he first started paying attention to the web, he was interested in the idea that he could zero install applications and that they could be accessed from anywhere at any time. He said that a personal computer to him is like a phone: it is a useful access point but it is not where he stores stuff.

He went on to say...
Bosworth advocated an open model for data. Although he was not referring to open source, he expanded upon the example by explaining that customers like open source software because of the transparency. For many, they know what they are getting because they can read the source. For the most part, they do not actually read the source, but it is comforting to know that if the software doesn't work, you or someone else can fix the code if that is required.

Imagine if you can query any data that is available anywhere in the world. Bosworth said that what this requires is a single, simple, open wire format for items. The format needs to be simple for any P programmer to deliver and any JavaScript programmer to consume. He also pointed out that "complex things tend to break and simple things tend to work." Google has the simplest query language in the world. There is no structure and no syntax.

Bosworth predicts that RSS 2.0 and Atom will be the lingua franca that will be used to consume all data from everywhere. These are simple formats that are sloppily extensible. Anyone who wants to can use these formats to consume content or to author content. Contrast this with the Semantic Web, which requires that you get a large group of people to agree on the schema of everything.

The only question I have is why Google implemented such a complex web services platform. I mean you can access their api from every conceivable web service method except RSS and Atom... hmmm. Now the blogger boys are using Atom and have been big proponents of it but I wish that would catch on over on the Google side of the cafeteria.


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