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The RSS Debate: Whats in a name?

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RSS. It is exactly the sound a match makes when you put it out with your fingers. Add “feed” (rssfeed), and you have the cymbalist’s drum roll finale. Even with the name’s limitations, RSS developer David Winer’s righteous anger toward those who would change it is understandable. After all, what if all things “rubenesque” were suddenly referred to as “fatgirlish?” To an artist or creator, that’s heresy.

Winer hasn’t exactly been quiet about the matter. Microsoft cut him to the quick when the beta version of Internet Explorer 7 began circulating with its “Web Feeds” capabilities. Adding insult to injury, another major player, Google, drops beta Desktop 2 this morning calling them “Web Clips.” And thus, the head explosion heard round the world originated at Winer’s desk.

Nobody likes what he named his baby. Marketers appear to have zero confidence in the consumer’s ability to adopt the term “RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed.”

Reports from Nielsen/Net Ratings and the Pew Internet and American Life Project haven’t helped matters, either. Nielsen reported that two-thirds of respondents surveyed didn’t know what an RSS feed was. Pew’s numbers were even more disappointing, reporting that 91% of Americans hadn’t the first clue about RSS.

Winer feels RSS will go the way of CDs and DVDs, neither of which have especially sexy or user friendly names but have been adopted by the masses. But even if the public readily adopted the term, this is a personal matter for Winer. He made it, he should get to name it.

His blog post regarding Microsoft’s perceived abuse of power is a biting and explicit account of his feelings-and fairly humorous, too.

“Donald Trump gets that they’re called RSS feeds. President Bush gets that they’re called RSS feeds.” But, as he implies, Microsoft (and now Google and Mozilla) doesn’t.

“I wondered why doesn’t Microsoft try to change Yahoo’s name. It would be easy for the browser to replace all occurrences of the string Yahoo with something like Web Portal Based in California.’ And what about Google’s name? Change it to Search Engine with Aspirations in Operating Systems.’ Now that would be a lot clearer!”

But he drives home the point later that Microsoft is making a mistake by “screwing” with independent developers.

“They’ll learn two important lessons. 1. Don’t screw around with things you didn’t create and don’t understand and 2. If you’re serious about working with a community of independent developers you need to build trust, and throwing your weight around stupidly is a good way to destroy trust and to keep developers far far away from you.”

Two points, Winer, I think. Because even if nobody likes what he named it, he should get the respect he deserves for creating it.

Shakespeare’s publicist wanted to change “Romeo” to “Harvey.” It’s a good thing he didn’t let him.

The RSS Debate: Whats in a name?
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