Beginning to get the hang of this blog thing, and came to the realization that the last format that I was using didn't really lend itself all that terribly well to the message at hand. I have changed the background template (using a fairly Byzantine quasi-xml language that has left me scratching my head more than a little), and as such it should make it at least a little easier to read the page. I've also made the Atom Feed a little more obvious (it's the big blue XML button on the left hand side).
Atom's an interesting standard, and with any luck it should lay to rest the long, controversial process of trying to standardize RSS in favor of something more reasonable. At the recent SVG conference, I brought up a point that I think gets lost. I consider Atom to be a core standard, even though it isn't currently within the W3C rubrick. What Atom (and RSS) does is to provide a mechanism for syndication, and this mechanism may be one of the most important parts of the human/computer web for the next several decades.
So why should the latest adventures of Blog and Blogette be so important to the grand schemes of the Semantic Web? One of the problems that has emerged in the last few years is that there is a limit to the degree of addressability of the web. Even with the now IPO blessed Google, most of the relevant web is remarkably difficult to get to. This becomes especially true in light of blogs, which are, by their very nature, time dependent. You cannot rely upon the passive process of spiders to eventually get your content to others, as the interval between your posting and the spider's finding of same may be measured in months, or in some cases years.
The solution, of course, is to do what magazine and newspaper publishers have done for years - you create a subscription service. Once someone loads in your subscription packet (the Atom XML file) then their news readers will be able to periodically check to see if any new content has come from that service, and will notify the readers at that point (often with synopses of relevant content). It is, truth be told, one of the few remainders from the "Push Computing" philosophy in the mid-1990s that otherwise failed so spectacularly, though I have long felt that the failure came about because the initial "push" was to move advertising to users' desktops.
This in turn brings up two items of note. The first is that bad technology, often driven by the deliberate pursuit of money, usually fades away pretty quickly, but the ideas are often recycled into applications that enable better (and typically freer) communication. The irony here is that such methods often end up supporting (or piggy-backing) revenue generators that make more sense within the constraints of the technology. People typically do not mind ads when they exist in a symbiotic relationship with the relevant content ... it's when they become intrusive and disruptive that people's ire rises.
The seoncd point is that such syndication is readily providing a means by which abstracts of content can be transmitted in a portable, relational manner. The abstraction of articles is one of the more challenging issues in building the contextual web, as abstraction is usually not something that can be easily automated. Someone has to put together these summaries, has to determine what is and is not relevant, and someone needs to bundle abstracts with the relational links to other content.
If you think of Atom as basically being a bundled collection of links tied together under some "editorial" guiding principal, with some measure of the relevancy of the links being made by such determining factors as date, keywords, proximity and perhaps more definite metadata (such as RDF or Dublin Core vocabularies) , an Atom document provides a very different tool for understanding the inner-workings of the web.
For more information on Atom, check the Atom Wiki. In addition to providing the Atom XML specification, it also includes a formal API in the mold of the XML DOM API for working with Atom content. While it may be a while before it completely replaces RSS (in its many manifold expressions) Atom seems to be fairly quickly becoming the dominant syndication language for the web.
I'm putting together my next technology reviews page, and should have it up by Friday. Until then, enjoy!