Is Atom Ready For Prime Time?

Recently, Tim Bray suggested to Atom syntax mailing list that perhaps a 'victory' should be declared for Atom feed format:

The world can use Atom, sooner rather than later. The return-on-investment of further WG time invested in polishing something that's already pretty good is starting to be very unattractive. Particularly when the Protocol draft seriously needs work and progress.

Tim also asked Atom protocol mailing list whether dicussions were converging and ready to seek consensus.  So it looks like Atom WG is attempting to start the end game phase.

As I expected, the Atom feed format as it stands now is arguably not very different from RSS 2.0.  Dare Obasanjo wrote in response to Tim's victory suggestion:

So far Atom is a less featureful version of RSS 2.0.

…my internal data models in RSS Bandit haven't changed one whit because of Atom, just the parsing code.

In response, Tim enumerated the list of advantages current Atom feed format has over RSS 2.0:

  1. There's zero ambiguity about single and double escaping, you can use whichever suits your publication process better and not worry about silent data loss.
  2. You can include binary chunks right there in-feed, base64 encoded.
  3. You get help for aggregate feeds using atom:origin.
  4. You have a date, atom:updated, with cleanly-specified semantics ("publisher says something changed") that's *guaranteed to be there* per-entry.
  5. It's in an XML namespace.
  6. It's got a good accessibility story: you have to have an atom:summary if there's no src= or it's binary.
  7. You have clean semantics for linking to the entry this describes or the entry it's talking about.

Well, I wasn't exactly impressed with the list and neither was Dare.  Are you?

So it doesn't look like Atom is ready for Prime Time any time soon.  Even if victory is declared now for the Atom feed format, it will just start a Brand War since feature differences are minor, leaving only the brand as the primary differentiator.

As I pointed out seemingly ages ago, the area Atom could have made the biggest impact is in the protocol/API.  But as you can see by the level of activities in the Atom protocol mailing list, work on the protocol haven't gained much ground, let alone converge.

I don't think it's too late to use RSS 2.0 as the starting point and build on it without breaking backward compatibility.  Most of the items in Tim's list of advantages can be added to RSS 2.0 as extensions, either individually or as a set called Atom.  This will allow the Atom WG to focus on the protocol instead of getting angry.