The big announcement at last week’s Gnomedex was the news that Microsoft plans to bake RSS into Longhorn. In just a minute I’m going to ask you to blog about this, but this requires some background first. I know this is a lengthy post, but the fact that you’re reading it means this is important to you, so please bear with me.
Microsoft’s plans are two-fold: to extend RSS so that it handles lists, and to provide a common feed subscription list and data store that can be shared among applications running on the same desktop. I believe these are both good things, and I’ve offered my hand to Microsoft to help them develop these in a way that benefits everyone.
In other words, I’m going to trust Microsoft. I believe companies – like people – can change, and I’ve seen plenty of signs that Microsoft has indeed changed. Unlike Google, Microsoft has joined the conversation via blogs and RSS. Hell, the fact that Scoble still has his job suggests that they’re a changed company!
So, I’m going to take them at their word that they’ll develop RSS support in a way that’s open, and I hope that I’m not singing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” a year or two down the road. But by trusting Microsoft, I’m also trusting them with your attention, and I don’t want to speak for you without explaining what I believe this is about, and then hearing your opinion on it.
What was interesting about Microsoft’s announcement was that they didn’t talk much about search, which is surprising given the huge competition they face from Google and Yahoo. In my opinion, a big part of the growing interest in RSS is about how search can be improved by watching what you read via RSS.
One of the most powerful things about RSS is that it breaks information into individual items – bite-size chunks, if you like – which theoretically enables tools and services to find out what you’re paying attention to. The more that’s known about what you’re paying attention to, the more relevant information the service can automatically provide for you (and the more irrelevant information the service can automatically discard).
This may sound Orwellian to some, but it’s actually very useful, and it’s already widely-used. Think of the books that Amazon recommends to you based on previous purchases, or the DVDs that Netflix recommends based on past choices. They do that by looking at what you’ve paid attention to in the past. I like this, and I want more of it – especially if what I pay attention to in one service could help me find relevant information in another service.
Now, Microsoft plans to add a common RSS feed list and feed store to Longhorn, which means that instead of requesting feeds via HTTP, aggregators like FeedDemon would request them through Longhorn’s RSS APIs – enabling Windows to find out what you’re paying attention to. That sounds incredibly useful for developing personalized search, doesn’t it?
And I’m actually fine with that, because I want personalized search. I want my attention data to help tools and services find the stuff that matters to me so I can cut down on information overload. But I only want this if:
- It’s done in a way that protects my privacy
- The service that collects my attention data lets me get it back, so I can share it with other services
I’ve written about attention and privacy before, but I haven’t really talked about the second point, which is where it gets tricky. Your attention data is very valuable to the services that collect it, so there’s not a lot of incentive for them to give it back to you. But even though you’re paying those services by giving them your attention data, that shouldn’t mean that they own it. It’s your data, and you should be able to share it with other services so that they can use it to make recommendations for you.
This isn’t about Microsoft or any one company. I fully expect Gmail to add RSS aggregation, enabling Google to better understand what you’re paying attention to so they can provide a more useful personalized search. Same goes for Yahoo and everyone else getting into the RSS business. See, I believe we’ve won the RSS battle and the next battle is for attention, and we should let everyone who hopes to gain from our attention data know that we want it back.
And that’s what I’m asking you to blog about (or, if you don’t have a blog, comment here). If you believe that you should own your attention data, now is the time to sound off about it. You don’t need to link to me or even mention me in your blog – just make sure to include “RSS and Attention” in your entry’s title so that everyone who pays attention to this subject (ie: Microsoft, Google, myself, etc.) can find you. I’m taking Microsoft at their word that they’ll listen to the conversation while designing their RSS support, so let’s test them on this.
Note: This is part of the battle that Steve Gillmor has been fighting for quite some time – it just took me a while to grok it :)