A while back, I asked how IBM should react to Microsoft's announcements about XML formats for Office. I have a new question. Perhaps it's really one question though, because I see a trend. More on that later. But first, let's look at what Microsoft is up to.
There has been much noise in the blogosphere the past couple of weeks as a result of Microsoft's announcement that they are adding RSS features to Longhorn. Here is Dare Obasanjo's excellent summary of the announcement. Press coverage of this includes eWeek, InfoWorld, and El Reg, and these articles probably say enough about it so I won't bother going into details. The important thing to note is that Microsoft isn't just building an aggregator, they are putting an API into the operating system to provide services to programs that want to subscribe to RSS. Not that subscribing to RSS is all that hard to do at the application level, but there are certainly some advantages to be had at centralizing management of different feeds for different applications all in one place. (I should not that not everyone agrees that this is a good idea. For example, Dan Gillmor. But on the other hand,
How should IBM react? Should IBM react at all? There was some mention of RSS in the Hannover announcements, but I don't have any of the details. Perhaps it's enough, or more than enough. I hope to find out soon enough.
I do think that it is important that IBM reacts, and it's because of the trend that I mentioned above. With Office supporting XML formats, and Longhorn supporting RSS, it's clear to me that with some simple transformations and API hooks, Microsoft's ultimate goal is two-fold. First, Office documents will be shared via RSS in Windows networks. Second, once again using simple transformations and API hooks, incoming RSS feeds originating from all sorts of data sources will "become" Office documents, or be integrated into Office documents. The goal is nothing less than making Office and RSS so plugged-in to one another and so dependent on the operating system's management of feed subscriptions that ad hoc collaboration without Office becomes unthinkable to their customers.
I think that IBM's natural place in the RSS world is... where else?... at the enterprise level. Soon after Lotusphere, I had a conversation with IBM's David Marshak, partly via email, and partly over Chinese food at a Westford restaurant. I'm afraid I can't post the Chinese food part, but here's an excerpt from something I wrote in the email part.
This is what keeps popping into my mind: "IBM Workplace Syndication and Subscription Server"
This isn't necessarily a separate server, of course, but the idea is that it is a piece of the Workplace that does two things. It can syndicate content drawn from IBM Workplace (and Domino) sources, and it can manage user subscriptions to feeds -- which can come from anywhere, not just from internal sources. This could be the corner- stone of an overall IBM entry into this space, and I think it might be very well received by the pundits -- and maybe by the customers too. Blogs and Wikis, whether they are IBM-built components of the Workplace environment, 3rd party Workplace components, or independent standalone things, would fit right in with this.
For creating feeds from Workplace content, you would point it at the schema and DB2/XML store, and define some mappings. I don't know enough about DB2 to be sure of this, but I'll bet that there's a way to monitor the store for changes in order to trigger update of the feed. If not, polling is the alternative. It would be similar for Domino data, although without a schema there would be a few extra steps. An API could allow developers to create feeds from other types of sources.
On the subscription side, it could manage all kinds of subscriptions -- RSS, Atom, mailing lists, and perhaps even leverage Domino's existing subscription feature. This would help address one of the problems with RSS: bandwidth consumption due to each individual separately pulling the XML from the source. The server would act as a proxy (which is what my Domino-based blog aggregator does) for multiple users, reducing that load by sharing the feed.
Users could set up individualized filters on this server -- a concept that many of the news services that ran on Notes 3 and 4 in the pre-web days had, reducing the information overload that can result from RSS.
Notes and Workplace users could receive their subscriptions from this server in several formats. A re-aggregated RSS feed coming into an RSS reader portlet would be one way, although a WCT Rich Client tool could do better (i.e., by tracking read/unread marks). Daily email messages could be another way. Filters could even be set up to send Sametime messages, text messages, etc., if criteria are met. I'm sure there are other ways -- perhaps within Activity Explorer, but I think I'll need more understanding of how people will actually use it before I can conceive of how it would fit in.
On the syndication side, though, I can definitely see the interplay between Activity Explorer and this new server. Any Activity could be a feed source, so actors involved in the activity or other people who need to follow the activity could easily be notified of new additions to the activity thread.
1. Andrew Price07/04/2005 08:04:48 PM
I don't think IBM should react at all. RSS, for all its usefulness, is such a bare-bones service (RS=real simple) that once MS has finished fleshing it out it will be as if MS did it from scratch. I suspect that MS will produce a huge bloated mesh product at the end that will either succeed or fail as a single entitiy with little possibility of modularization. Sure, some Real Simple hooks would be handy, but the last thing we need is IBM chasing off into the sunset on yet another feature adventure imo.
2. Mikkel Heisterberg07/05/2005 02:13:32 AM
I think IBM should react but not as much on the RSS infrastructure level as on the application level. IBM needs to react to the ways Microsoft will use RSS to integrate applications e.g. calendars in Outlook. RSS will become the entry-level web services platform I think.
IBM will need to come out strongly and indicate that they are going to follow suit and provide an integration level built on RSS.
3. Stan Rogers07/05/2005 03:02:28 AM
RS != "Real Simple", unless you're a member of the Church of Winer. there's a lot more available in RSS (or, say, Atom) than the "good enough for a blog" version provides.
4. Nathan T. Freeman07/05/2005 05:14:36 AM
IBM can leapfrog on this with the idea you're talking about Rich. The key thing to me is that the feeds themselves should be collaborative items. That is, I should be able to add a feed into a shared space, to ensure visiblity to team members. Additionally, my own subscription set should be a visible resource to anyone else -- so they can say "what's he following?" and get an answer (subject to me making some feeds private, of course.)
There was an awesome but underused feature in the old Domino Web proxy application: ratings. This is a concept that could easily be brought back and made more powerful under the model you're talking about. With the WCT providing real browser content rendering, we might finally be able to integrate RSS feeds and general web pages into a real collaborative aparatus. Think of it like all the various KM tools designed for *internal* source content, only now users could incorporate information they find outside the organization via a general Workplace proxy system.
It could be really exciting. Frankly, I've wanted to go and build this system for a while, but only had one shot at a prospective customer for it. (And I lack the discipline to chase those kinds of things as a solo side-effort.)