A few days ago, Matt Mullenweg announced on the WordPress.com blog that they had enabled support for something called RSS cloud. RSS cloud may seem new, but support for it in the RSS 2.0 specification has been around for a long time. Since 2001 to be exact. However, the RSS feed for WordPress did not use the cloud element and only now with Dave Winer starting a new campaign are we starting to find out what this cloud element is capable of.
Currently, feed readers must poll the domain a number of times to figure out if any new content has been published. This is an inefficient way of doing things. RSS cloud changes that by allowing the site to notify the feed reader instantly as the content is published. This is where the term, real-time web comes into play. Here is Matt’s mini explanation of the protocol.
WordPress.com has always supported update pings through Ping-o-Matic so folks like Google Reader can get your posts as soon as they’re posted, but getting every ping in the world is a lot of work so not that many people subscribe to Ping-o-Matic. RSS Cloud effectively allows any client to register to get pings for only the stuff they’re interested in.
RSS cloud is just the first in a series of ways WordPress.com is going to support pushing content pings to users instead of vice versa. Right now, there is only one RSS reader that supports RSS cloud and that is Dave Winers own River2. Support from other feedreaders is most likely on the horizon as this real-time access to information catches on. If you use the self-hosted version of WordPress and are interested in adding RSS Cloud support to your RSS feed, you can download the RSS Cloud plugin created by Joseph Scott.
I’ve been reading about RSS cloud the past few days and I still have a hard time figuring out what the benefits are regarding real-time RSS feeds. I’m one of those folks who likes to open my feed reader, go through the posts, mark them as read and move on. When they were published is not really a big concern to me unless it’s more than three days old. What does it matter if I get your blog post an hour after it was published as opposed to 5 minutes? Right now, I’m thinking that there are a large amount of people who are simply impatient. I’m all for real-time speed for certain things but I just don’t get the point with RSS.
While reading ReadWrite/Webs take on WordPress.com enabling support for RSS cloud, there was a comment left by almostinfocus who asks a number of questions I have myself.
If everything is constantly real-time, then when is the time to absorb information, give it some thought, and respond? Are we getting to the point of too much information too fast? Are the only people involved in all these real-time conversations going to be those constantly getting short bits of information and giving quick responses before moving on to the next thing? Will this have a negative effect on thoughtful discourse in the future?
With Twitter, standard RSS Feeds and such, there are already plenty of people suffering from information overload. I think this real-time RSS stuff just adds on to that. It would be quite annoying to login to my feed reader and as I’m reading a few stories, I get bombarded by 100 different blogs publishing content.
I’ll open it up to you though. What do you think of this RSS cloud stuff? Will you be enabling support for it on your blog? Should I enable support for it on this site?
If you want to read more information regarding the protocol, check out these blog posts:
WordPress Just Made Millions of Blogs Real-Time With RSSCloud
PubSubHubBub Versus RSS Cloud
I think the real point isn’t that you get real-time updates, but that you aren’t constantly polling the server only to find that there are no new updates.
RSSCloud (or something similar, ideally based on XMPP, I’d think) will be a huge bandwidth saver once most of the sites on the web are using it, because they will *never* have to ask the server if it has updates, because the server will tell them instead.
It’s not so much about saving time or bandwidth for a given reader, since it doesn’t take much to poll a site every so often, but the bandwidth savings for a popular site could be much larger.