Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Hacks: Articles about programming in Python, Perl, Swift, BASIC, and whatever else I happen to feel like hacking at.

Why I still use RSS

Jerry Stratton, April 26, 2012

Every once in a while I’m asked why I still use server-side RSS caching to display Twitter, Facebook, and other RSS feeds when JavaScript plugins are more dynamic and easier to implement. The answer is that I don’t want someone else’s server failure to impact my site, or my readers’ experience.

So, I cache the results on a regular basis, making sure to use the appropriate technology to not pound their servers. If something goes wrong, my page(s) will continue to display the previous cached version.

Normally, a Twitter or Facebook feed failure using a JavaScript plugin just means an ugly “could not connect to server” where the feed’s content should be displayed. Sometimes, however, server failures mean real problems to your site visitors.

This morning, I opened up my usual bevy of blogs, and got a screenful of site certificate errors from platform.twitter.com:

My God, it’s full of dialog boxes!: “Safari can’t verify the identity of the website platform.twitter.com.”; Safari; Twitter

My God, it’s full of dialog boxes!

As usual, I forgot to get a screenshot on first seeing the problem, but it persisted sporadically for at least several minutes and I was able to capture it the next time it happened. There are more popups than you can see here: once it hit the lower right corner, they stacked directly on top of each other.

This is part of why I avoid JavaScript-based social networking buttons, too.1 Because I don’t want my visitors to be as annoyed visiting my site as I was this morning when I saw about 30 dialog boxes pop up on my screen in about two seconds.

July 10, 2013: No more Twitter on masthead

I’ve removed my twitter feed from the masthead. When Twitter offered an RSS feed, putting up the latest two tweets was trivial. I’ve looked at their new rules for using the JSON feed, and don’t feel any desire to make sense of them.

I wouldn’t even have bothered mentioning it, but in the process of trying to find out what was possibly going through their heads removing something so simple and easy to use, I ran across some very good blog entries talking about the wonders of RSS.

From Battle for the planet of the APIs:

In the web’s early days, AOL offered an alternative. “You don’t need that wild, chaotic lawless web”, it proclaimed. “We’ve got everything you need right here within our walled garden.”

Of course it didn’t work out for AOL. That proposition just didn’t scale, just like Yahoo’s initial model of maintaining a directory of websites just didn’t scale. The web grew so fast (and was so damn interesting) that no single company could possibly hope to compete with it. So companies stopped trying to compete with it. Instead they, quite rightly, saw themselves as being part of the web. That meant that they didn’t try to do everything. Instead, you built a service that did one thing really well—sharing photos, managing links, blogging—and if you needed to provide your users with some extra functionality, you used the best service available for that, usually through someone else’s API… just as you provided your API to them.

Then Facebook began to grow and grow. I remember the first time someone was showing me Facebook—it was Tantek of all people—I remember asking “But what is it for?” After all, Flickr was for photos, Delicious was for links, Dopplr was for travel. Facebook was for… everything… and nothing.

I just didn’t get it. It seemed crazy that a social network could grow so big just by offering… well, a big social network.

But it did grow. And grow. And grow. And suddenly the AOL business model didn’t seem so crazy anymore. It seemed ahead of its time.

From Lockdown:

This is how RSS and Atom have always worked: you put in some effort up front to get the system built,2 and in most instances, you never need to touch it. It just hums along, immune to redesigns, changing APIs, web-development trends, and slash-and-burn executives on “sunsetting” sprees.

RSS grew up in a boom time for consumer web services and truly open APIs, but it especially spread like wildfire in the blogging world. Personal blogs and RSS represented true vendor independence: you could host your site anywhere, with any software. You could change those whenever anything started to suck, because there were many similar choices and your readers could always find your site at the domain name you owned.

And from The web we lost:

  1. The other part being mostly that I’m uncomfortable with the level of tracking that offsite JavaScript enables when browsing the web.

  1. <- Paging Reed Richards
  2. GraphicConverter album art ->