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FeedSync Leaves Microsoft's Strategy Un-Sync'd

Microsoft recently announced “FeedSync” (refer to the article cited below), as the evolution of its previous work known as Simple Sharing Extensions, or SSE.  My initial reaction is that this announcement is somewhat of a "one off". Microsoft has not articulated any coherent vision on XML feeds and the end-to-end management of feeds in general and this announcement does not clarify its strategy. Microsoft is correct in pointing out the proliferation risks related to XML feeds. But FeedSync tries to solve more advanced problems that are outside mainstream adoption of XML feeds within enterprises right now. It also leaves Microsoft clients without a clear framework for how XML feeds and feed syndication comes together for those investing in the Microsoft platform. What I do believe is that we need to move away from feed synchronization being left up to individual vendors - so there is a clear need for a community-effort to standardize in this area (as mentioned by Sam Snell of IBM at the bottom of a blog post of the FeedSync topic). There is also the broader challenge of data synchronization (where tools like Groove and Notes have advanced replication engines that are unfortunately locked up inside those respective products).

Perhaps someone will take this spec and run with it - creating some interesting and innovative applications that can better showcase its value. But I wish Microsoft would fix some of the more basic gaps and glaring holes in how it is approaching XML feeds and feed syndication in general. Right now, "the cart is before the horse" so to speak.

Initially, Microsoft delivered the Windows RSS Platform as part of IE7. IE7 included its own lightweight feed reader (which I actually like, it does what it is supposed to do and no more). Windows RSS Platform (which I also like), was positioned as common client-side infrastructure to provide consistent feed-related services for desktop applications (e.g., feed subscriptions, download, storage).

Then the Outlook team undercut that effort by implementing (essentially), its own version of Windows RSS Platform as part of Outlook 2007. That's bad enough - but the implementation is absolutely horrible when you use it for a large number of feeds (BTW, my machine literally dies when Outlook 2007 syncs and despite deleting feeds several times, they keep coming back – my experience with Outlook 2007 and its native support as a feed reader has been very frustrating).

Microsoft further confused the picture when it appeared to be working on a hosted feed syndication platform but never executed. Niall Kennedy was hired with the assumption (on my part) that he would spearhead the effort. Indeed, he initially appeared excited about coming on board, but soon announced that he was leaving.

SharePoint exposes a lot of information via RSS feeds but it apparently has no support for Atom - in fact, Microsoft seems to be very unclear on its support for Atom (and Atom Publishing Protocol). Perhaps Microsoft will continue to play with RSS extensions. I hope not since this would only end up muddy the waters given RSS is essentially an architectural dead-end. It is important for IT organizations to realize that SharePoint is not a feed syndication platform - it's just another application that exposes feeds. This gap forced Microsoft to partner with NewsGator (i.e., Social Sites), but even that integration does not eliminate the need for enterprise IT organizations to look at what Attensa, KnowNow and NewsGator offer themselves as complete feed syndication platforms.

Surprisingly, IBM is also completely absent regarding a feed syndication platform. I find it amazing (in an underwhelming manner), that a company touting social computing (e.g., Lotus Connections) and "Info 2.0" has not articulated a strategic vision related to XML feeds outside a simplistic client implementation in Notes 8 and surfacing XML feeds in its related back-end products (e.g., Domino, QuickR, etc). For now - Attensa, KnowNow and NewsGator remain the only credible options with perhaps Oracle as perhaps the only large vendor that could make a move here.

Synchronization for the Web

The creation of FeedSync was catalyzed by the observation that RSS and Atom feeds were exploding on the web, and that by harnessing their inherent simplicity we might enable the creation of a “decentralized data bus” among the world’s web sites. Just like RSS and Atom, FeedSync feeds can be synchronized to any device or platform.

Previously known as Simple Sharing Extensions, FeedSync was originally designed by Ray Ozzie in 2005 and has been developed by Microsoft with input from the Web community. The initial specification, FeedSync for Atom and RSS, describes how to synchronize data through Atom and RSS feeds.

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