Saturday, September 03, 2005

By By Byline

Here’s an odd little wrinkle that I’ve been spotting for a while in a couple of the feeds I read in Bloglines. What’s wrong with this Salon feature?

Bloglines, showing article: Anatomy of an unnatural disaster, By By Michael Scherer.

…and with this SFGate (the online home of the San Francisco Chronicle) article?

Bloglines, showing SFGate article: In City Without Rules, Is Looting Ever OK?, By By ERIN McCLAM, Associated Press Writer.

The bylines are odd: “By By Michael Scherer”, “By By Erin McClam”. Why?

Here’s the relevant item in Salon’s RSS 0.91 feed, which uses the Dublin Core dc:creator extension to state the author, as RSS 0.91 does not specify an element for item authorship:

  <title>Anatomy of an unnatural disaster</title>
  <dc:creator>By Michael Scherer</dc:creator>
  <description>With FEMA gutted for Homeland Security and flood projects delayed for lack of funding, the New Orleans nightmare should surprise no one.</description>
and here’s the item in SFGate’s RSS 2.0 feed, which uses the RSS 2.0 author element:

  <title>In City Without Rules, Is Looting Ever OK?</title>
  <description>As New Orleans has descended into chaos, desperate residents have stolen ramen noodles, loaves of bread, cases of soda _ basic survival needs in a painfully empty city. Others have taken jewelry, TVs and even guns. The devastation left behind by...</description>
  <author>By ERIN McCLAM, Associated Press Writer</author>
  <pubDate>Thu, 01 Sep 2005 11:39:58 PDT</pubDate>
  <guid isPermaLink="false">/n/a/2005/09/01/national/a111817D22.DTL</guid>
Strictly speaking, this is an incorrect usage of the author element, which is specified as containing the author’s email address; however, this seems to be a pretty common misusage. (Note also the odd underscore, which is an em-dash in the published article: maybe this is an artifact of the article’s origin as a wire story?)

In both cases we can see what’s going wrong here. Both feeds stuff a full byline into an element which should really just hold an author name. Bloglines then helpfully takes the contents of the element that it believes holds the author name, and prefixes it with “By” to form a byline. And there we go: By By who?

To be fair to Salon and SFGate, this does not happen on all articles in their feeds. At Salon, it appears to be only feature articles which acquire the extraneous “By”. At SFGate, the extra “By” appears only on articles syndicated in from Associated Press. But still: a little more attention to detail, and to the relevant specifications, would result in a more professional appearance to readers of their RSS feeds.