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Death of RSS? Or death of XML?

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16 September 2010
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This week saw a flood of Death of RSS posts, tweets, and statuses. Most of these came in the wake of the announcement that Bloglines, the web-based RSS reader, will be shutting down on the 1st of October. There was more than one well founded criticism of all this doom and gloom, one of them a short, angry post, consisting of almost nothing but a chart depicting Google Reader’s obviously exponential growth to date.

So – what’s all this then?

Unfortunately I cannot, and do not want to, make anything of the fact that Blogline is shutting down. A supermarket in my hometown once shut down when I was small, but somehow groceries just didn’t seem to go out of fashion. This debacle, along with the fact that RSS is built upon XML, did make me think about an entirely different issue though: the death of XML.

Death of XML

To be fair, I should rephrase it as The probable death of XML as communications protocol, possibly leading to the timely demise of XML altogether, sometime in the next 50 years. But that would’ve been just too long and awkward for a title.

I’ve been in love with XML ever since I started using it. Mostly because I’m an engineer, and XML is a complicated solution to a simple problem. XML is beautiful. XML is well formed, it’s extendable. You can use it to fill an entire page with a single tag, and thousands of nuances of attributes which might or might not be used in future. Many a late night we spent around the whiteboard, arguing over the exact schema to design for a specific problem – all of them being right, fo course, but each person believing in the superior beauty of their own schema.

I have wasted months, if not years, of my life on XML. It was months well spent.

Then came JSON.

JSON still makes me think of an array written a bit differently. There’s no design to it, and most arrays and objects can be converted to JSON by a three year old doodling on a piece of paper. The conversion algorithm is so simple, it can be implemented on dried leave.

This is why, shortly after AJAX became big in web development, even though the X in AJAX stands for XML, programmers started using JSON to replace XML as the communications protocol in AJAX.

The Twitter API supports both XML and JSON formats, with the JSON format being listed on top on all pages of their API documentation, a decision based on format popularity. The Facebook Graph API returns JSON only. The bit.ly API has the following sentence in their API documentation:

” … note that json is the default response format. but xml is also available … “

All of this makes me believe, as a communication protocol, XML is in the process of making way for a more agile successor. It will be missed.

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