December 29, 2003
The future of Style

At work, one of the things I'm working on is a better way for information to flow to people. Since the one thing I know they will have always running is their email client, we've developed a solution that uses RSS feeds and an aggregator that runs inside the email client.

This seems to work well and I'm pushing for more advancement in this area.

I was playing around with the new Atom feed and started wondering why it displayed the way it did. I talked with Yoshi at work and he and I looked at the XML a bit. I asked why the stylesheet wasn't referenced. After thinking a bit, he explained that the style information was an attribute of just one type of content that could be syndicated via Atom. To call it out specifically was wrong since it didn't apply to all types of content. He said there must be a way to point at the CSS in another way, but he hadn't looked at the Atom spec much.

We looked at the Joi Ito post about including CSS info in a RSS feed. We weren't sure if this was a 'good thing'.

A bit later Yoshi emailed me the following:

After some research, it appears that this approach is invalid. I quote:

"This element defines a link. Unlike A, it may only appear in the HEAD section of a document, although it may appear any number of times. Although LINK has no content, it conveys relationship information that may be rendered by user agents in a variety of ways (e.g., a tool-bar with a drop-down menu of links)."

When I got home, I logged onto #joiito and started asking a few questions. I was soundly beaten up for suggesting that CSS and syndication even belonged in the same sentence. I argued that the layout and design of information was important. Mark Pilgrim, who's opinion I respect, pointed me to his thoughts about Styles in syndication. He's against it. I understand his reasoning, but I think the need remains. He suggested that style attributes be used instead of full CSS.

After putting the kids to bed, talking to the wife, and watching and episode of Angels in America with her, I headed back online.

In the mean time, Joi's post went white hot with comments on the topic and Mamamusings made a great post about the topic. Anil Dash, always one step ahead, was mentioning this a year ago.

It appears that I stumbled onto the issue just as it is 'being revisited'.

People on both sides make valid points. It's good to be surrounded byt smart people.

My take is simple. For syndication to be truly successful, there must be a good way for style information to travel with the syndicated content.

The need for style info is more than wanting blue text instead of black text. For Atom to be more than a weblog tool and really shine as an information transfer platform, it needs to be capable of fufilling a range of needs beyond text & links. IMHO, Jason Shellen has a good proposal.

Posted by michael at December 29, 2003 10:30 PM