Saturday, August 26, 2006

Dave Winer hates CSS... again

Item #2 of the Tinfinger Challenge looks like a lock, meaning I won't be appearing with orange paint over my head any time soon. After yesterday's stinging parody by Shelley, Ralph of There Is No Cat delivers the most accurate criticism yet of Dave Winer's latest project. Not only is Dave claiming credit for something others have been working on for years, the way Dave wants to do it is actually harmful and non-compliant with Web standards. Much the same argument is advanced in various comments to Scoble's fawning post on the subject.

Dave had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into accepting Cascading Style Sheets in the first place. Yet CSS is the solution to this problem, and has been used to solve the problem for many years. Back when Dave first hated CSS, browsers were very patchy in their non-compliance to the W3C spec, so it was easy to hate. By now, all browsers have long since caught up. There's no excuse to be ignorant of how to make your site mobile-friendly via HTML and CSS, as Ralph demonstrates. Crucially, this can be done - SHOULD be done - using the same URL as the regular site, without needing an extra subdomain, or an external aggregator, or relying on a separate RSS feed.

Mention should also be made of FEEDcombine, which has been doing almost exactly the same thing - consolidating mainstream media feeds, including those from the BBC and NYT or any other feeds you specify, into one low-bandwidth feed URL - for about a year now. Compare FEEDcombine's NYT superfeed with nytimesriver.com. Would you call that prior art?

Dave's response is typically belligerent. Despite the above criticisms about Dave's strategy on the client side - where "client" means publisher, who is effectively a client where aggregators are the servers - I still think he will probably produce something worthwhile on the server side. The mobile news aggregator market is still open to new players, and good luck to Dave for whatever he launches into it. I'm guessing that his main strategy would be to launch a ping service for mobile news content to enable the "push" element that will make the concept so compelling. If that is true, the master plan must be to eventually sell off that ping service for something like the $2.3 million price that VeriSign paid for Weblogs.com. NTTAWWT.

Please Dave, don't try to control the client side too. Don't force publishers into learning yet another new way of publishing. Work with CSS, not against it. Aggregators have had to learn to deal with the idiosyncracies of RSS, surely they can handle CSS-driven mobile versions of Web pages. At the very least, if you want to push on with whatever new and/or proprietary method you've got up your sleeve, give people a heads-up that they can do it with CSS too, and support CSS in your aggregator server code. It's the inclusive thing to do.

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