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On posting etiquette

RSS is Good for Everything

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After implementing a little RSS2 for this site, I got the RSS2 religion big time. I'm lying awake at night imagining all the wonderful things this really simple idea can accomplish.

Before going into these details, I'll outline what the whole thing is about.

What the whole thing is about

You've got a reader (for example FeedReader) that goes to a number of web servers and requests one particular file from each of them. This file has a very particular, but also very simple, structure containing "headlines" and a short description (abstract) for each headline. Finally, there's a link to material on some site somewhere. Having a reader go pick up these files from a lot of sites saves you the trouble of going to all these sites yourself and see if something new appeared. At least if the relevant news are published through the RSS2 file (also called a "channel"). I've described it more technically, with links to the standard and an example on another page.

Naturally, it doesn't have to be news to be published as a headline. Vault (a version control system by SourceGear) publishes an RSS2 feed with the checked in source files, so you can be alerted whenever anything new is produced. This is totally ideal if you want to scrutinize any new code checked in without having to go through the source code tree looking for new stuff.

Workflow, anyone?

Imagine an accounting package that publishes all entered expense reports or invoices through an RSS2 channel. Anyone interested (and authorized) would be alerted within minutes and could, just by clicking the link, be taken right to the expense sheet in the application, at least if they have sufficient access.

You could also imagine a shipping tracker publishing the waypoints for a package on a custom RSS2 channel for that particular package. Or a medical records package publishing any newly arrived lab reports.

Updates and support

Everyone is adding automatic updating to their application. That usually means that the application goes out to a support site and checks if there's a new version to download. Personally, I'm not too crazy about this system, especially since it often works so poorly. Also, you don't really know what information is given to the server. Additionally, you have to run the application to check if there's an update available and finally, the downloaded update isn't in a form you can save to a directory and use again the next time you reinstall your system.

Wouldn't it be much nicer if the vendors published a short description and a link through an RSS2 channel for each update or new version they make available? That way you could keep an eye on oodles of vendor support sites with the same tool and at the same time as you check out the news. And you'd be left in control of your own destiny, at least as it relates to software updates.

Other ideas

If you use webmail, your email server should list your incoming emails using an RSS2 channel for you personally. Your backup system could list the latest backups, the results and errors and links to full backup listings. Your other servers could publish warnings about errors or suspected attacks. Your coffeemachine could call for help. Your fridge could publish a shoppinglist for you. Sick or old people could have their needs published this way for the social workers to scan before going on rounds.

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