Davos Newbies Home

From a Guardian reader 

I am a Guardian reader with all that implies for followers of political and socioeconomic indicators in Britain (but I’m also an FT reader, which I suspect is a relatively uncommon phenomenon).

So it was particularly disheartening for me to read an article in The Guardian last week about syndication. I’m not a techie, although I might be described as a techie manquée. Even for me, however, there seemed a lot wrong about the article’s portrayal of the tussle between RSS and Atom. Fortunately, Rogers Cadenhead has catalogued the errors.

What is equally serious for me is the apparent conflict of interest undisclosed by the author, Ben Hammersley. As Cadenhead notes, Hammersley was deeply involved in the development of RSS 1.0, the “faction” that seems to have led to the development of Atom. The article in The Guardian, which paints Atom as the solution and RSS 2.0 as the problem, does not indicate that Hammersley is parti pris.

The Guardian’s own newspaper code plainly declares:

“It is always necessary to declare an interest when the journalist is writing about something with which he or she has a significant connection. This applies to both staff journalists and freelances writing for the Guardian. The declaration should be to a head of department or editor during preparation. Full transparency may mean that the declaration should appear in the paper or website as well.

“A connection does not have to be a formal one before it is necessary to declare it. Acting in an advisory capacity in the preparation of a report for an organisation, for example, would require a declaration every time the journalist wrote an article referring to it.”

The article could have run as an opinion piece, advocating one side of the story. To innocent readers of the newspaper, however, it posed as an objective account.

Many of my US friends assume that journalistic standards in Britain are lower than in the US. I don’t think that’s the case for the better British papers, a category in which I’d certainly include The Guardian. But here’s an instance where my dear Guardian seems to have fallen badly short of its declared standards.

Another ally against unreason 

The Panda’s Thumb is becoming a regular read for me. It’s a weblog on evolution (and passionately against the pernicious “intelligent design” advocates). Panda’s Thumb is a good ally to have against the forces of unreason.

Revel in this refutation of an ID article.

Sign of the times 

Even Noam Chomsky has a blog (and an RSS feed).

5 thoughts on “Davos Newbies Home

  1. Danny

    For a start, I don’t think Ben’s involvement in a format (RSS 1.0) that is likely to be obsoleted by Atom is really a show stopper.

    What’s more, there don’t appear to be any posts from Ben on the Atom mailing list (looking in my Outlook folder), though there are 50+ from Dave. A search on the Wiki for Ben’s contributions shows 2, for Dave’s shows 5. Dave has proposed an RSS basis for Atom (which prompted the Guardian piece). Given the nature of the Atom project, this all suggests that Dave is actually a much more active contributor to the Atom project than Ben.

    As for Rogers’ catalog of errors – they are all debatable points. btw, didn’t he recently write a book on Userland software? His conflict of interest would be declared where exactly?

    I am an active supporter of the Atom effort, and although the adhocracy isn’t perfect there is at least some direct community input. Nobody gets their own way all of the time (e.g. I wanted it to be RDF/XML), but everyone can contribute, Dave included.

    Ok, let’s say for a moment that Ben’s viewpoint is biased. Did you consider that the article may still be essentially accurate?

  2. Lance Knobel

    Neither Dave nor Rogers wrote — or, as far as I know, have any plans to write — a report on the RSS/Atom debate. I’d think it wrong for them to do so.

    I would have no problem with Ben writing a piece of advocacy, as opposed to a straight report. I think that’s what he’s done, but it was presented under the guise of objectivity.

  3. Ken MacLeod

    There is almost no overlap in the leadership of Atom and RSS 1.0 — at most, myself, and for a time, Aaron Swartz. There’s only a slightly larger overlap between those who favor both RSS 1.0 and Atom.

    Atom grew almost wholly out of efforts working on RSS 0.9x/2.0 and APIs.

  4. Danny

    Lance, I’m not sure that involvement automatically renders objective reporting impossible. Ben’s direct involvement was with RSS 1.0, which is in part at least declared : “Ben Hammersley is author of O’Reilly’s Content Syndication with RSS.”. You’re asserting that he’s advocating Atom, not RSS 1.0. As a conflict of interest that seems rather cockeyed.

  5. Aaron Swartz

    Lance Knobel writes: As Cadenhead notes, Hammersley was deeply involved in the development of RSS 1.0, the “faction” that seems to have led to the development of Atom.

    Sadly, Mr. Cadenhead has led you astray.

    The RSS 1.0 specification was released December 6, 2000. Mr. Hammersley’s first post to the RSS 1.0 list was not until March 5, 2002 where informed us of a new module he had created, mod_streaming. Even then, the archives show he did little except inform us about work he was doing, like writing his book for O’Reilly and start an RSS news weblog.

    Ben Hammersley was later added as a Working Group member, but this was after all major decisions had been made — he has not participated in any substantive votes on the format.

    In short, the record shows Hammersley had almost no involvement with the development of RSS 1.0; he certainly was not “deeply involved” as you wrote.

    Furthermore, as Ken MacLeod has noted, there is little evidence for the claim that the “RSS 1.0 faction” led to the development of Atom. Atom’s creation was led by Mark Pilgrim, Sam Ruby, and Joe Gregorio. As far as I can tell, none of these three were involved with or even supporters of RSS 1.0.

    I hope you will correct your piece and reconsider your conclusions.

    Aaron Swartz
    Highland Park, IL

    The author is a member of the RSS 1.0 Working Group and co-author of the RSS 1.0 specification.


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