What’s in a Name? RSS and Attitude

Seems that my Rename RSS contest has caused a bit of a stir. Many people seem interested in the idea; a few others seem considerably less than thrilled.

It’s fascinating to me how the very concept of a name can spark a strong sense of both imagination and attachment. I’m finding this contest to be quite an intriguing experiment! I’ll be curious to see the end result. I don’t have any particular expectations, I just thought this should be tried.

Many people seem intrigued by the idea of renaming RSS. In the last couple of days I’ve gotten a LOT of entries – it’ll take me a little while after posting this article to catch up with adding them all to the entry list.

Also on the positive side, this contest has been noted and linked to in several other places – including Lockergnome and Scott Rosenberg’s Salon blog. And I’m amazed that this contest is getting considerable attention in European blogs, including the popular German blog Telepolis

On the “not so thrilled” side, some reactions to this contest have ranged from cynical to indignant – and I suspect I may have inadvertently offended Dave Winer, a prominent RSS pioneer…

On the cynical end of the negative-opinion spectrum, Gadgetopia thinks this contest “will go over like a lead balloon.” Weblog Hype says, “I doubt whatever this contest comes up with will be used anywhere else, other than some of the readers of Amy’s weblog.”

But today, Dave Winer’sEarly Morning RSS Rants” caught me by surprise. Some excerpts from Winer’s posting:

“RSS clearly is about to go through another growth spurt. And as with each other time its eclipsed its former self there are people who seem to want to take control, redefine it in some bizarre and undignified way…

“The name RSS is every bit as good as any other name you can come up with, and it has the advantage that it’s the name everyone uses. Read a marketing text book. It doesn’t matter what it’s called, rather that it means something in lots of brains. Trying to make a new name stick will only make the whole thing weaker…

“For example, imagine falling in love with someone. “You’re the perfect person for me,” you say. “But your name doesn’t communicate who you are. Let’s have a contest to come up with a new name for you.” Now, how clueless would that be?”

…Now, Winer doesn’t mention me, CONTENTIOUS, or my contest by name, and no links are included, but as far as I know I’m the only person running a contest to rename RSS. And I did invite Winer to be one of the judges. (He didn’t respond to the invitation, and I guess his reasons for that are now obvious.)

PUTTING IT ALL IN CONTEXT: I’m thoroughly intrigued and delighted at the broad spectrum of opinion and debate that this contest has raised. I even enjoy the criticism and cynicism – I can be critical, opinionated, and cynical myself at times, so I certainly don’t fault others for that.

I also expect never to be able to please everyone, and that some people will inevitably disagree strongly with virtually everything I say or write. That’s not a problem, that’s just life.

However, I would like to clarify a few things about why I decided to offer this contest, my attitude toward it, and what I expect the result to be:

THIS IS AN EXPERIMENT: First and foremost, I view this contest as an experiment, not a campaign or crusade. I am not trying to claim any kind of “control” over RSS, either.

The truth is, by now I’ve heard so many people complain about the geekiness of the acronym “RSS,” I thought that someone should try to gather suggestions for a catchier, less geeky new name for this exciting online publishing option. No one else seemed to be doing that in any coherent way, I decided to give it a try.

I have no idea whether the winning name will catch on. Actually, I have no particular expectations or goals in that regard. I just thought this process should be tried, because it would be interesting.

If in the long run the best name for RSS indeed turns out to be “RSS,” fine! I’d have no problem with that – as long as eventually that acronym somehow ceased being an obstacle to popular acceptance and adoption.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH ACRONYMS? Not all acronyms are inherently bad – but they have their uses and abuses. I see this every day when I talk to people face-to-face about RSS. Most people who are not technology afficionados have a visceral and visible resistance to acronyms, including “RSS.” Yet vast numbers of these same acronym-resistant people could reap great benefits by learning how to read and even publish RSS feeds!

The thing about acronyms is that they tend to keep non-experts at arm’s length from interesting ideas or tools. Acronyms are inherently cryptic, because they must literally be decoded in order to be understood. In fact, the original full name for RSS is “RDF Site Summary” – a nested acronym that requires two levels of decoding, and it gets geekier at the second level!

Yes, I really do see the acronym RSS as an obstacle – not an insurmountable one to be sure, but a considerable one that should not be ignored. This bothers me because I am so excited about RSS and its possibilities. Consequently, I am very grateful to the contributions of Dave Winer, Ben Hammersley, Ben Trott, and others who pioneered RSS and are exploring various ways to put it to good use.

SUGGESTION: LIGHTEN UP! Seriously – if I am not emotionally attached to the outcome or long-term impact of this contest, why should anyone else get upset about it? This contest is simply an experiment that’s encouraging some lively debate, and it’s fun and creative! Just let it happen, participate if you want to, ignore it or criticize it if you choose, and see what comes of it.

Either way, it’s bound to be interesting.

16 thoughts on What’s in a Name? RSS and Attitude

Comments are closed.

  1. <shameless self promotion>
    I’ve decided to join the legions of bickering people, each with their own blog where they drone on about what they they RSS should be. The first post mentions this contest and campaigns for my favorite entry. Hop on over to http://infobite.blogspot.com/ and take a gander at “Info Bite”. Then come back and vote for my suggestion! 😉
    </shameless self promotion>

  2. Did someone opposed to the contest send a hit squad to take out the principle actors, or is the contest still on? I’m anxiously awaiting to see whether my clearly superior suggestions are selected! 😉

  3. Hmm…another 2 cents. I suppose if it’s become a debate I would side with the contenders of this topic as a whole. (Er, stupid pun intended.) I subscribe to your RSS feed and will be forever grateful for stumbling upon the RSS world through your blog, your coverage of this and many writing topics has been very insightful and helpful to me in the past. I view this particular sidewinder as a superflous meandering with no apparent use other than to drive traffic to your site. Perhaps you were simply at a loss for something to write about.

  4. My own personal take on Dave Winer and issues of building your own blog is taken up in a short post I put up today (Dec. 30, 2003) on my blog.

    It isn’t until you are stuck that the techie terminology and script-speak suddenly become barriers to accomplishing something in the blogosphere.

  5. Poor Dave Winer. RSS is the name “everybody” uses? It’s not. It may be hard to accept (for a RSS pioneer), but 99.9% of the world’s population does not even know RSS exists …

  6. People (ordinary people) live happily with acronymns every day–often without knoweledge of what they stand for. Examples: AM (as both a time of day and a type of radio), FM, CD, DVD, TV, HDTV, ESPN, CBS, IBM, DOS, MSN, HTML, WWW, MPH, Kg, and on, and on, and on… and on.

    There have been plenty of times when I’ve disagreed with Mr. Winer, but this is not one of them.

  7. Amy has the right attitude about this contest. It is fun and there’s nothing wrong with a freelance stab in the dark.

    If, however, we don’t succeed collectively in pinning a name-tag on RSS, there is a whole world of value we can add to the names the contest entrants come up with here. After all, one of the rationales for the effort is to better communicate to people what RSS is, can do, and how it works to benefit users. The ‘name’ is not the only issue.

    Down the road as RSS grows, some people are bound to abuse it, as in over-use it. With foresight (we have loads of it), we could come up with all the monickers we could need to describe the various users of RSS and their multiple virtues or vices. Here is my stab at the challenge.

    The cast of four:

    OggleBoggle Bum


    Snipper Snipe


    An OggleBoggle Bum subscribes to everything without overcoming his/her profound DepRSSion.

    If you are a Fiddle, you R bleSSed.

    A Snipper Snipe needs a ReSSt.

    A Purloin should be aReSSted for copyright violation.

    Here are some of the conditions and syndromes that are associated with the (over)use of RSS.

    The copycats become developmentally aReSSted.

    Creative users aRe bleSSed.

    Eventually, even the perfectionists aRe beSSted.

    Many overusers suffer from innate DepRSSion.

    Syndication addicts need a ReSSt.

    When you’re stuck in a rut, you have cReSSted.

    Multi-purpose users are Double BReSSted.


  8. This contest is a great and very useful idea. And at risk of lowering myself to Dave Winer’s level of discourse, that intelligent but ornery man needs to:
    1) Quit taking things so personally
    2) Learn to play well with others

  9. RSS needs a new name. HTML needs a new name. CSS needs a new name. XML needs a new name. BBC, CIA, DDT, B2B… they all need new names. Or do they?


  10. Having read and thought a little more about this, I’d like to add a few points to my original comment.

    * I’d vote for RSS 0.9x/2.0 and 1.0 getting different names. They are very different, and both would benefit by not being confused with the other. 0.9x/2.0 seems to be about getting the job done simply, while 1.0 seems to be about making sure you can extend it to do anything. The philosophies behind of the two are so different that they probably only suffer from being tethered to the same name.

    * For the record, I stumbled across 1.0 first, but have found that 2.0 speaks more to my heart and goals.

    * Since the name “RSS” is firmly associated with both in the minds of many, I think it would be wise for BOTH to get non-acronym names so that they can be discussed unambiguously without having to name the version numbers to keep things clear.

    * It might be a good idea in the contest to specify which version the name is for! Either that, or split it into two contests–at least when it comes time to vote.

  11. Names have a lot of power, there’s no question, and the history of RSS is a rather convoluted one anyway, Amy. DW is one of the more high profile types, but my impression is that he’s somewhat like Doug Engelbart (inventor of the mouse, among other things) and Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the Web, etc): a founder who watches with amazement as his invention or co-invention explodes onto the popular consciousness, then rapidly grows beyond any ability for one person to control or nurture its growth.

    I have heard people say that Dave has become marginalized in the rapid and exciting evolution of the RSS standard and its many applications, and while I don’t know if I completely agree with this, I do find that like Weblogs, RSS has a life beyond the reach of any one person. And sometimes people open their hands, push the technology away and watch joyously as their innovation changes the world, while others close their hands, grasp at the few wisps left within, and descend into the darkness of loss rather than the joy of birth.

    In the end, it’s just a name. The Internet survived being called the Information Superhighway, and, indeed, evolved from DARPANET and ARPANET as previous names, so, as David Mamet’s film attests, things change.

  12. Don’t let Winer bug you. I’m pretty well convinced that his sole intention in life is making everybody do things his way, or else. Winer’s a whiner, that’s all there is to it.

    Winer’s contributed a lot to blogging and to the ‘net as a whole, there’s no denying that, but he needs to get off his soap box for 10 minutes to realize that his rants are doing.

  13. My initial reaction to this contest was that there was no need to rename RSS, but after reading the writeup, I changed my mind. Every time I have a conversation about things I’m doing with RSS, I have to take care to explain what RSS is and why anybody should care about it. A DESCRIPTIVE name (though probably not a flashy but non-descriptive one) would help with that, and I agree that it could go a long way toward raising awareness of, comfort with, and use of RSS.

    “RSS clearly is about to go through another growth spurt. And as with each other time its eclipsed its former self there are people who seem to want to take control, redefine it in some bizarre and undignified way…”

    I can understand wanting to keep one’s brainchild dignified, and wanting to keep it from getting pushed off in some direction that makes it unsuitable for what you originally created it for (or whatever expanded vision you’ve developed for it since then), but with respect to the original creators, I think the argument about people wanting to control it could go either way.

    If your baby sparks an idea in someone else’s mind for something a little different, is their idea, their vision, any less legitimate than yours? No. Do they have the right to promote their idea under the name of your brainchild? My first reaction is to think “of course not”. But on the other hand, When you release something like RSS into the wilds of the internet, I think you have to expect it to be regarded similarly to other internet standards, and realize that part of the price you pay for it becoming really huge is that you lose some of the control you had over it.

    The internet works and thrives because of open standards, and truly open standards are not under the control of any one person or group, but emerge from large communities of persons interested in improving the way things work. Some have more authority than others, and some have more resources for promoting their vision, but everyone gets to promote their opinion, and then the market decides which vision wins.

    “The name RSS is every bit as good as any other name you can come up with, and it has the advantage that it’s the name everyone uses.”

    Well, it’s the name that everybody who uses it uses, but with a more accessible name, more people would probably use it. RSS is every bit as good as any other acronym (BTW, is it “RDF Site Summary” or “Really Simple Syndication”? The original version wasn’t RDF-based, right? Not that I really care which people call it) but for people who don’t deal well with acronyms, it’s also every bit as bad as any other acronym.

    In the end, perhaps coming up with a new name for RSS is for the best–then “RSS” can stay under the control of those who want to keep that name and keep it doing what they want it to do, and everyone else can work on taking the technology named by the new name where they want it to go. After that, the people can decide which one to use.

  14. RSS might get a new name
    Really Simple Syndication is what the author of RSS intended, but the acronym has limited it’s potential. At least that’s the thought behind the contest Contentious Weblog is running. Contentious, a blog run by Amy Gahran, is seeking to do for RSS wh…