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Sunday, May 2, 2004

... not really. But some folks are debating whether the public needs a more meaningful or memorable abbreviation than RSS for the "Really Simple Syndication" format used for sharing weblog content and news-summary feeds.

I agree with Lisa and Dave that it's too late for a name change and that the three letters RSS work just fine. They even inspire some Really Simply Silly discussion, including the page you are looking at. Frankly, I have more trouble with the aggravatingly polysyllabic words "syndication" and "aggregator," but my definitions are longer, and they use the word "stuff" a lot:
  • Syndication: "Sending stuff for folks to read or republish."
  • Aggregator: "A program that puts stuff together where you can read it without going to dozens of original sources."
"Webfeed," which someone suggested as a new name for RSS, to me just adds to the clutter of ugly compound webwords. I say call a reader a reader and a feed a feed. Keep it short and snappy. Can't we just call a feed a feed, no matter what is shovelling it -- RSS or RDF or XML or some new atomized acronym? What will be the next à la mode flavor of XML? Call it all RSS. It doesn't matter. We could say it means "really simple subscriptions" or "randomly sent stuff."

Or we could call it FRED, a friendly name that brings to mind memorably stylish leading men in couples like Fred & Ginger, Fred & Ethel or Fred & Barney (sorry, Wilma).

Parental guidance alert... a few lines below, this note almost says a naughty word, followed later by what some might consider a suggestive phrase or two.

FRED 1: Because the name doesn't matter.
I was once editor of a college newspaper with an old corny name. The school had a magazine with a cuter name, inspired by a Lewis Carroll character who did drugs. When I left campus, a new editor decided to merge the two publications and wanted to know which name to use. I told her to just get the best writing on campus and print it, that the name didn't matter: "Call it 'Fred' if you want." She took me literally. The college paper was named "Fred" for a year or two. But the name didn't matter.

FRED 2: But the acronym has potential.
A friend who heard my Fred story had her own. Her father's radio station had been taken over in the 1970s by a conglomerate that fired half the staff and replaced them with a big tape drive playing syndicated programs. Someone put a sign on the machine, naming it FRED -- short for "F-ing Ridiculous Electronic Device." A second drive was "ALFRED," for "Another Lousy..."

FRED 3: Fine ideas, but all too late.
The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that Netscape, Dave and the rest back in 1999 should have called RSS "FRED," short for "feed reading," or "fairly reliable electronic delivery," or for a variation on definition 2 above, depending on the user's mood. But now it's too late. RSS will do.

While on the subject of what might have been, I think that instead of "XML," the little orange buttons should have said "Drink Me." (I'm not suggesting "Eat Me" for obvious reasons; besides, in Alice "drink me" did the shrinking, while "eat me" did the expanding.) A green candy heart saying iLoveRSS

"Eat Me/Drink Me" buttons might be fun, but Brian Bell's I love RSS candy hearts come close enough. Besides, my Dad's initials were RSS, so those images always make me smile. I wish he had lived to see them, not to mention the "I love RSS" T-shirts, which arrived about 20 years too late. (I think he would have a good laugh if someone came up with a "Kiss my RSS" graphic, for that matter.)

Incidentally, I would have put this on my Harvard blog, since it doesn't have much to do with this blog's alleged journalism theme, but the Berkman server was playing FRED (2) again when I started this. Either that or there was a May Day labor action at Harvard.

(Edited and illustrated with that heart & updated, 3-5 p.m. May 2 and edited little more on May 3 to [a] restore a few words so that someone in Holland who quoted the first version still has an accurate quote, and [b] to amuse a diacritical friend with the correctly accented " à la mode." Enough: RSS is really silly silliness!)

1:14:34 AM    

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