Why's it called Syndication?

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Joffrey Koliante asked…

I keep asking myself what does “syndicate” mean. I would say that Syndicators are systems that make any content available as an XML feed. When syndicators syndicate content, this is called syndication.

Right ?

So why do so many blogs, especially Movable Type powered ones, write “Syndicate this site” rather than “Aggregate this site?”

The short answer is: because the original use for XML content feeds was truly syndication and the term stuck.

RSS was first used by Netscape in their My Netscape portal. Content providers would syndicate their headlines to Netscape using RSS, a file format that they invented. The acronym meant “Rich Site Summary.” When RSS began being used by individuals to grab content from multiple locations for display in an aggregator, the term “Rich Site Summary started to become less and less accurate. Much of the content was not summaries at all, but rather the content in its entirety. So a new meaning for the acronym was invented: “Really Simple Syndication.”

If you want the long answer instead of my oversimplification of the history of RSS, poke around the Web looking for information about Dave Winer, Netscape, and the different versions of RSS: 0.91, 0.92, 1.0 and 2.0.

One of the meanings of syndication is the distribution of content to multiple locations for simultaneous publication. So in that sense, syndication is a good term for what is occurring. However, the act of consuming the content (what the end users are doing when they “syndicate this site”) is not technically syndication.

While “aggregate this site” is probably a better description, “syndicate” is in common use and probably won’t go away anytime soon. But I’d argue that neither term is very good if you want mainstream Internet users to pick up on content feeds.

J.K.
June 17, 2004 3:48 PM

Well thanks for the post as an answer but... you'r not making clear to me why the word "syndicate" is used for 2 different meanings and actions. Creating an XML feed is an action, whereas reading it is a different one. Are you telling me that everyone forgot to define a second word for the second action ? That would be surprising because both actions were technically born at the same time.

Adam Kalsey
June 18, 2004 12:19 PM

Remember that RSS wasn't born from the minds of marketers. Good terminology wasn't neccessarily a goal when inventing the technology. I don't think anyone spent lots of time working on the names or terms. You're looking for meaning where there is none.

Charles
June 25, 2004 3:45 PM

J.K., the act of creating the XML feed is a prerequisite for the act of syndication. It's just something publishers have to do, and I think one of the reasons why blogging has taken off is that the blgging tools like Typepad/MovableType/Blogger/pMachine etc have RSS/ATOM capabilities baked in...the publisher doesn't even have to think about it any more...they can just go straight to working on the syndication part. I'm trying to put the 'syndication' back into Really Simple Syndication with http://www.feedroll.com (free syndication) and http://www.feedrollpro.com (Pro syndication for publishers). Rgds Charles

Anna Freud
July 8, 2004 5:51 AM

Creative minds always have been known to survive any kind of bad training.

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