It has been said that it’s better to have a closed standard than no standard at all. At times this is true, but it’s great when forces work to provide open standards from the onset.
One great thing about open standards is that the rising tide floats all boats. Take news discovery on the web.
A key part of publishing content on the web is getting your content discovered. Syndication and being well indexed by search engines is a necessary start. To do that well requires some thoughtful design, publishing site maps and news feeds etc.
Much better would be a full blown API to allow other services on the web full access to your data. Journalism discussions about community often weigh heavily toward getting the communities to contribute to the news process but that type of one-sided thinking may be indicative of the traditional news organizational culture.
Equally important is contributing out in ways that foster the deep participation we are seeking. We need to give our communities the tools they need to help the news processes along.
Alas, most news organizations do not have the resources to create the Times Developer Network. Nor is it realistic or beneficial to the developer community to have to learn a different API for each organization.
Enter the Semantic Web.
Many have considered it largely academic (or not considered it at all). There just didn’t seem to be a big enough ROI . Not enough services were harvesting the metadata. That was true because not enough publishers were providing the metadata. Also, in the case of the news industry, was the lack of a domain specific data model.
When news organizations finally begin to publish semantic metadata a critical mass will spill out onto the web and the chicken and egg problem that has plagued the movement will be over. That moment may be upon us.
In recent months a proposed standard called rNews has emerged for using RDFa to embed news-specific metadata into HTML documents. If you don’t know what that means, the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) which is creating the spec has an excellent website that explains it all.
The IPTC carries a lot of weight in the news world, which means the standard has a good chance to get adopted. A number of key players are involved in the creation and evangelism of this spec including NYTimes’s Evan Sandhaus and Hearst’s Mike Dunn.
What it means to anyone that adopts it, is the ability to level the playing field in the area of API creation. Publishing of the metadata would allow developers (both internal and external) to query your HTML documents, enabling all sorts of aggregations and mashups. And that’s just scratching the surface.
In the least it will help search engines enable users to find you. At best it will transform the way the industry publishes and consumes news.
This is a great thing. A rising tide will float all boats. Make sure you are on one.