Spring Ahead, Or Fall Back?

Off of my plea for universally followable /now pages, Colin Walker has been tinkering with an RSS namespace, and you should check that out but right now I want to talk about something in the Robin Sloan post Walker links.

Sloan talks about what he wants from the internet, that being an easy way to follow people he finds interesting, no matter what they are posting or how often. Parrying suggestions of various pieces of current technology, Sloan gives a succinct argument against RSS.

For my part, I believe presentation is fused to content; I believe presentation is a kind of content; so RSS cannot be the end of the story.

What’s interesting here is that one of the things that’s present in my plea and in Walker’s references to it is the idea that RSS in fact can function purely as a notification system without doing anything to RSS. It’d be trivial for a feed reader to ignore the content of updates and simply tell you something had updated, linking you directly to the source with no local copy stripped of the presentational content Sloan desires to maintain. Walker’s already basically demonstrated this.

The weakness, I feel, in Sloan’s “Spring ’83” pitch is that it requires people posting to the web to have to concern themselves not merely with posting to the web but also making something readable by a Spring ’83 client, rather than simply linking people to the original source of the posting.

I get what Sloan is after, but I should note that if “presentation is a kind of content”, making people effectively have to produce two kinds of content—whatever they originally were posting but then also something consumable via Spring ’83—doesn’t make any sense to me. He doesn’t seem to be after each individual person’s presentation as-is, but wants them to produce something that will nicely tile up in a Spring ’83 client and provide “unplanned juxtapositions”.

That’s not purely about “presentation as content”: it’s at least a little bit about “a specific kind of presentation I want people to provide”.

It’s not clear to me, then, how it can be true, or at least as simplistically true, that a Spring ’83 board “isn’t a project you manage separately; it’s a chunk of HTML you edit right there alongside the others”. When I read this proposal, I think about how it’s tough enough on my cognitive load just trying to write a blog post, without also having to create some additional “chunk of HTML” for a Spring ’83 client.

I’m all for proposals of the “if I had a magic wand” variety. I think they mostly are the only kind of proposals anyone should make, rather than preemptively and self-defeatingly paring things down based upon the feedback you assume people will give. Don’t negotiate your world by ceding ground at the outset.

That said, I guess I don’t know what problem, exactly, the Spring ’83 idea solves. If preserving presentation as content is the goal, we simply can fall back to RSS. If we want not to be bound by the starkness (Sloan) and homogeneity (Walker) as its typically executed by feed readers, all we need to do is code new feed readers that simply act as notification systems that link us to the actual, original content and its presentation.