Federal Support For RSS

An interesting little note going around the web today is the push for RSS/Atom feeds by the new administration. For example in the Initial Implementing Guidance for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 [PDF] it specifically dictates that feeds are “required”:

For each of the near term reporting requirements (major communications, formula block grant
allocations, weekly reports) agencies are required to provide a feed (preferred: Atom 1.0,
acceptable: RSS) of the information so that content can be delivered via subscription. Note that
the required information can be supplied in the feed or the feed can point to a file at the agency
using the convention noted below. If an agency is immediately unable to publish feeds, the
agency should post each near term information flow (major communications, formula block
grant allocations, weekly reports) to a URL directory convention suggested below:
www.agency.gov/recovery/year/month/date/reporttype.
It is expected that the information files
will be posted at the following URLs:

  • Major Communications: www.HUD.gov/recovery/2009/02/16/comms
  • Formula Block Grant Allocation: www.HUD.gov/recovery/2009/02/16/fbga
  • Weekly Report: www.HUD.gov/recovery/2009/03/01/weekly

I predicted a few months ago there would be slow growth of feeds in the future. This is just another example of what will be fueling that growth. While I won’t debate RSS vs. Atom here, it’s still interesting to see. It seems whitehouse.gov also prefers Atom using it throughout it’s feeds.

Interestingly a year ago when I profiled all the candidate websites only Hilary Clinton (D), Tom Tancredo (R) and Ron Paul (R) preferred Atom. Everyone else used RSS. I couldn’t even find a feed on Barack Obama’s site.

I wonder if the federal government will ever have a syndication standard, either RSS or Atom. I’m guessing that decision comes down to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) who I don’t think has any standard for syndication. They themselves use RSS. So does NASA among other government agencies with websites. Considering Atom has come closer to IETF standardization it might have an edge over RSS.

Whitehouse.gov Analysis

A few notes on the new whitehouse.gov website as I did for the campaign sites after about 5 minutes of sniffing around:

  • Running Microsoft-IIS 6.0 and ASP.NET 2.0.50727. The Bush administration ran Apache on what I think was some sort of Unix. Data is gzip’d.
  • Whitehouse.gov is using Akamai as a CDN and for DNS service.
  • Using jQuery 1.2.6 (someone should let them know 1.3 is out). Also using several plugins including jQuery UI, jcarousel, Thickbox. Also using swfobject.
  • Pages tentatively validate as XHTML 1.0 Transitional! I’m shocked by this. I’ve checked several pages all with the same result.
  • Using WebTrends for analytics. Bush Administration also did.
  • IE Conditional Stylesheets and a print stylesheet.
  • RSS feeds are actually Atom feeds.
  • The website is setting two cookies that I can see WT_FPC and ASP.NET_SessionId which expire at the end of the session which is not prohibited in federal government as per OMB Guidance for Implementing the Privacy Provisions of the E-Government Act of 2002 (using Google Cache for that link since I can’t find it anywhere else, our government should really keep those in a more permanent location).

I should note that this is quite different in architecture than the Obama campaign site which ran PWS/PHP, no notable JS library, feed, and Google Analytics.

Update [1/20/2009 @ 9:00 PM EST]:

A Look At Simple Update Protocol (SUP)

The increasingly popular FriendFeed is proposing a new protocol known as Simple Update Protocol (SUP). The problem FriendFeed is encountering is noting new. They monitor a RSS feeds over a variety of services for each user. This can really add up. To keep things timely they poll them frequently. Generally speaking this is a very wasteful process since the majority of those feeds likely didn’t change. That’s wasted resources. SUP in a nutshell is a changelog for feeds so that a service like FriendFeed can check only the ones that changed. This allows for quicker updates with less polling. Here’s my analysis of the proposal.

Continue reading

China Blocks RSS

China’s Great Firewall has now started blocking RSS, a long known loophole to get information blocked all other ways. An entire syndication standard is now blocked. According to the Ars Technica:

PSB appears to have extended this block to all incoming URLs that begin with “feeds,” “rss,” and “blog,” thus rendering the RSS feeds from many sites—including ones that aren’t blocked in China, such as Ars Technica—useless.

I wonder if a good workaround would be to just use yourdomain.com/d0e862d00be15796f/ or some other randomness. It would be a better way around filtering of just the url. Then the government would need to start sniffing content-type. The problem they would encounter there is that it’s far from standardized when it comes to feeds on the web. As a result they would have to either live with a high error rate. Unless of course the would resort to content sniffing, which has a ton of overhead when your talking about an entire countries internet bandwidth. That would be extremely expensive and either: slow down the internet in China, make it much more expensive, or just shut things down. My guess is a slowdown.

You can also just switch to atom until they catch on and block that too. The article mentions several other tricks including RSS aggregators, ssh tunnels, etc.

[Hat Tip: Slashdot]