Keep your OPML

opmlI have a web 2.0 sin to admit to, I just don’t get OPML.

Sure, there are cool things you can do with it – importing / exporting reading lists and the other capacities Steve Rubel mentions including seeing who subscribes to what on a group level. Heck, back in March 2004 I spent a fair bit of time getting excited about possible applications in libraries!

What I didn’t get then though (heady days of netopianism) was that it was (and is), IMO, fundamentally flawed logic. People don’t really do anything, let alone share, unless they’ve got a very good reason for doing it. Sure you might help out the community, sure you might be able to serendipitously find loadsa cool blogs, sure it’s another kind of glue that binds us (hypertext and undertext anyone?)… but why the heck would I bother? Answer: Not many people did, nice experiment, things moved on.

But now of course a very high percentage of people are using web based aggregators and with the online desktop on the tip of everything I’d be pretty comfortable in suggesting that within 10 years 99%+ of aggregation will be something that we technically do ‘online’. This means we won’t have to ‘share’ any more, we’ll just have to do our thing and the system will share and compare and do all those funky things for us, which is great.

But what do you need to happen for this to become a reality in the first place and what will you get out of it in the end if it does? Well, I – for one – am not entirely convinced that we’re gonna see MSN, Yahoo, Ask, Google etc. etc. saying ‘For sure Dave, we’ve got all this great data (which naturally we all agree on standards for) and we’re just itching to share it with everyone else’, and then (I imagine) there would have to be someone who hosts / runs this great feed-house, and get something reasonable out of it – like Automatic with Akismet – you can have a go at wiping out comment spam because there’s a great business model there… but with OPML?

I mean there’d be some great data on who’s most read – but haven’t we got fairly good ways of estimating or showing that already? And you’d be able to see who reads the same kind of stuff to you – perhaps some value in a Uni department but across the web… hmmm – and there’d be another way of looking at a very particular number of blog stats… but where’s the killer attention ap here?

Maybe it’s just me but I can’t seem to see it.

6 replies on “Keep your OPML”

  1. I think it is you James, or could it be old age catching up!

    OPML has it’s place but as with most things it will not solve world hunger. It will however be used for structured data transfers between systems, like courses.

  2. Well I reckon you’ve got one thing right, it’s not RSS, but I still don’t understand.

    What kind of structured data is going to be transferred here beyond reading lists? Why are people going to bother (that much) transferring these?

    Am having one of these horrible blogosphere days where everyone is going ‘how cool that is’… not a lot of critical or sceptical coverage getting airtime here:

    Still… have been wrong plenty of times before…

  3. I had not seen the OPML sharing site, living under a rock at the moment, I now see what you mean. :-) Having a quick look at the site here’s my take.

    The “let’s share reading lists” helps build meta data around the authority of a particular blog vs another. This piece of data when added to the “who links to who” are necessary components when discussing attention. This can also be extended by using the feature to find new content, which I have just done. This is probably the most important usage.

    What else will go through OPML. Anything that is of a hierarchical nature, either facilitated by people or systems (aka automatically). Course structures in the learning space, music playlists, directories, even organisational charts.

    However as I said it will not solve world hunger. Instead OPML will get added to the suite of tools used and in the long run it will be used by people for things that are completely different to what it was intended for, as with most things.

    At the end of the day RSS, OPML, Atom, SSE and all other XML file formats just serve as the wiring of the internet, what we do with it is where the real value will be.

  4. I have been able to get friends a colleagues started reading blogs in specialty areas by “priming the pump” for them with an OPML file. It has been great getting novice users quickly invested in the proactice of reading and writing blogs. I cen see educators emailing OPML to their students to jump their dialogue with professionals and thinkers in their fields. Just one smal but beneficial use of OPML.

  5. OPML is very useful in a class where you want students to subscibe to each others blog. Once one of the students has created the subscription list it can be made available to the others. An example is where you (teacher) design a research exercise where students locate relevant resources and create blog entries that document how each of the found items relate to the topic. At the end of the exercise a task might be assigned where only the items blogged by students may be used as a resouce for the final document.

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