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RSS, Microformats, Tagging, OpenID
Extending the OSI Model - Part II

Continuing from my previous post, clearly the web of software services to inter-operate with each other need an extension of the OSI Model to services level. There are many service which are working in this direction viz.

RSS: Really Simple Syndication
RSS is a format used to publish updates of your website content. Typically RSS is used by news websites or blogs - where content is dynamic and requires users to keep checking the site for updates.
RSS updates could be just pointers to changes (or summary of changes) or it could contain the full feed ( i.e. all the new content). An RSS is typically read using a feed reader - a program similar to an email client which keeps checking for updates.

While the primary function of an RSS feed is to provide information updates - it also helps in separating the 'presentation' from the underlying 'content' - just as the OSI Model separates presentation from data. With RSS in place, you need not read a blog or news only in the format (font, placement etc) as defined on the original website. Your Feed Readers can chop an churn the content and present it in various forms.

What RSS does for news/blog content, microformats do for other structured data like your daily schedule information (hCalendar) or contact list (hCard). In fact, we can call RSS a microformat for news-content.

Microformats like RSS separate presentation from data, but more importantly, they enable portability of data. If the format in which data is stored is fixed, it is easy to migrate it from one service to the other, or even better to share the same set of data between two services which perform different functions with the data. For example - you contact list can be stored in Gmail, but shared between your social network, your official email client and your phone address book.

OpenID : Separating Authentication from service
While microformsts (and RSS) provide a separation between the presentation and content, OpenId is an attempt to separate authentication layer from service. If we were to extend the OSI analogy, OpenID is to web services what Sessions layer was to the network.

Using OpenID-enabled sites, users do not need to remember usernames and password. Instead, they only need to be registered on a website with an OpenID "identity provider" (IdP - like Yahoo! or Google or your own site/blog). Since OpenID is decentralized, any website can employ OpenID software as a way for users to sign in; OpenID solves the problem without relying on any centralized website to confirm digital identity.

With microformats and OpenID - SaaS (Software as a Service) becomes a true in its complete form - as the service just needs to build code to transform the data - authentication is done by OpenID and content comes through RSS/microformats.

Unlike microformats and OpenID, Tagging is not a protocol but a practice, a philosophy. Services like delicious have started tagging URL's, many other services provide facilities to tag content and data residing on their websites. For example, slideshare allows you to tag presentations, youTube allows you to tag videos and flickr allows you to tag photos.

Tagging does not create an inherent structure into data (like RSS / Microformats), rather provides a mechanism for structure to emerge out of data sets. It enables, what is called in philosophy or science as emergence. In effect, it paves way for information to evolve just the way civilization, humans, animals and the universe evolve.

We will see how all this converges into a new standard that in a way extends the OSI philosophy in the next post.


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