Friday, September 30, 2005

A storm in the OPML teacup

An interesting little exchange over at Scobleizer. Robert Scoble wants blogging tools to support OPML. James Robertson questions this, calling OMPL “a really crappy format”. And this sends Robert flying off the handle:

When users say they want something the correct answer isn’t to call what they are asking for “crappy” but it is to either say “here’s what you’re asking for” or it’s to say “here’s what you’re asking for and I made it even better.” Or, I guess an OK response would be “I can’t do that, sorry.”

But if you say the format is crappy that makes me wonder if you have something better up your sleeve. So, I’m gonna call you on it. Do you?
Well, I’m gonna call you on that, Robert: since when did reviewers also have to be producers?

Ebert & Roeper have the authority to call a movie crappy; is that authority dependent on them having a better movie in production? Are book reviewers required to have sold a novel before they can comment on other novelists’ works? Am I required to get a record contract before I can say that Celine Dion sucks?

Bullshit. Most reviewers form opinions based on their experience as consumers, not producers, of products. I suspect that neither I nor Robert are remotely capable of designing, building, or putting into production a car; but I’ll bet we both have well-formed opinions about our Ford Focuses.

James’s opinion on OPML is clearly formed by his experience as a consumer of the OPML specification. Isn’t that enough? Does he really need to produce a newer and better specification before he’s considered qualified to comment?

There’s a valuable insight in James’s post: it correctly identifies that Robert’s enthusiasm for OPML is an evangelism of a solution, rather than an expression of his requirements. As he puts it:

I have no idea why [Robert] thinks OPML is some magic mojo that lets him escape a browser. It’s a format, and a fairly bad one. It doesn’t enable or disable anything by itself.
Bingo. Robert says “I want OPML”, but what he really means is “I want some things that I believe using OPML will get me”: offline browsing and editing outside the confines of a web browser. This is a solution masquerading as a requirement; identifying and challenging these is part of what us software engineers do.

Like James, I’m not convinced that OPML is the magic bullet that Robert wants it to be. But I do firmly believe that shouting down critics with “do better or shut up!” is unhelpful, unproductive, and just plain rude: macho posturing at its worst.

[Updates: more comment from Robert and James. Shelley Powers has a good, and thoughtful, roundup at Burningbird. And Charles Miller, at The Fishbowl, calmly (and without using the word “crappy”) explains What’s Wrong with OPML.]


Keep in mind that Scoble and Winer have this "lovefest" thing going on. Robert just can't think straight.
You're missing some data, we've been building tools around OPML, and what Robert wants is a blogging app that is compatible with those tools. A short-hand way of saying that is he wants them to support OPML. I think the tempest in the teapot is with the shrill people who object to Robert asking for something, and object to developers giving him what he wants. But here's the key point, developers already did respoind and gave him what he wanted. So you guys need to do a bit more looking around before jumping on him. Something's happenign here that you aren't following very well. Have a great day.
Everyone that uses OPML ends up missing some data.
Aside from the fact that its YetAnotherML, and that XML was an exceptionally Bad Idea from the start, I just had to pop over to Winer's site and see just how bad this is.

OPML is bad. Really, really bad. The clown is actually specifying SCREEN PIXELS, for god's sake. This is 2005.