The thing that most surprised me today in the SoftEdge panel on Social Software was the reaction to RSS. I should be clear that I am an RSS true believer. It seems to me that metadata as a byproduct of social software engines (be it blogging or social networking or whatever) is not only enviable, it is inevitable. RSS and FOAF and other yet-to-be-determined social software data protocols will become standards because it simply makes good sense for them to be standardized. Anyone paying attention to the unbelievable development and adoption curve of wireless can appreciate the immense value driven by standards -- and, in particular, standards that are truly standard. So it came as a bit of a shock to me that when I questioned the panelists on the implications of RSS and the Semantic Web, they were less sold on the inevitability of it all.
When asked the question of whether the proliferation of RSS and FOAF might make it possible for reader technology to be the next killer application in knowledge management, I got very strong reactions from both Reid Hoffman and Meg Hourihan. Reid stated that he did not believe that RSS was sufficiently robust to provide significant value an any level. Meg followed up with a general indictment of the semantic web, which she views merely as a geek utopia. I will admit that I'm a fan of Candide (particularly at the hands of Bernstein), but I hardly view myself as Panglos. One need look no further than, for example, the tools that Oddpost has incorporated into its web email client to allow an integrated email and blog experience. Better yet, through a relatively simple web service, Oddpost can deliver an RSS feed of a particular Google News search so that you can keep track of keywords that are of interest to you without having to visit Google repeatedly to find out if your company or candidate or favorite band has been mentioned in today's news. The same is true of watch lists on Technorati. Rather than periodically check to see if someone has linked to your blog, Technorati will do the work for you and deliver the info to your inbox only when there is information to be delivered. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg but the demonstrate the nascent power of RSS and related standards. I'll have to wait for another panel to have that argument with Reid and Meg.