TECH TALK: The Future of Search: RSS to OPML

As we have seen in the series, Search will evolve along multiple dimensions. It will become more personal, more local, more vertical. It will also move beyond text to encompass multimedia formats. It will also have better support for mobile devices. Search results will combine matches on our own data stored on local disks (or on the Internet) with the information on the Web. Search APIs will allow developers to build search into applications. Search will thus become part of the tapestry and shift to the background.

What will come to the fore is our continued desire for answers and insights delivered on time to the device of our choice. Information at our fingertips is finally going to happen. One of the key enablers will be Information Dashboards — built around events, subscriptions, tags and discovery, built with cutting-edge software innovations, available to us on the devices of our choice, and focused around optimising our attention.

To consider how information dashboards will be built, we first need to understand how reading on the Web has changed over the past decade. In the beginning, we had pages and websites built around HTML. As the URLs became too many to remember, we started using bookmarks in the browser. Directories like Yahoo helped us navigate through hierarchies to get us to the sites of interest. Search engines like Altavista and Excite helped us find pages based on keywords. Second-generation search engines like Google improved on the relevance and also simplified the interface. In parallel, portals like Yahoo offered customised start pages through MyYahoo and their ilk. Email newsletters delivered updates on sites to our mailbox and continue to do so. Much of this reading was based on Pull we decided what we wanted to see or search, and then clicked on to it.

In the past couple of years, there have been the portents of change in this model. RSS now delivers updates from a subscriptions list to our aggregators. Even though RSS readers are used by a small fraction of Internet users, Yahoos adoption of RSS for MyYahoo and a rapid increase in the websites publishing RSS has helped simplify reading on the Web and is taking it beyond the early adopters. The ease of reading, though, has lagged the progress in publishing. Tools like MovableType and Blogger have made publishing easy. Web-based services like Flickr and have enhanced the publishing and sharing process.

Yet, there are limitations. Even as we talk about Web 2.0, there will be a need to upgrade the content publishing and sharing process. For this, a level of abstraction that is a level above RSS will be needed. This is where OPML (outline processor markup language) comes in. OPML is a mechanism to represent a collection of subscriptions. OPML has an interesting feature called transclusion which allows for remixing and repurposing of subscriptions and therefore, content. Just as RSS allowed us a better way to view content pushed from sites, OPML will enable a better way to view a collection of subscriptions. Each cluster can have its own associated view. This is the foundation on which Information Dashboards can be built.

Tomorrow: MyToday

TECH TALK The Future of Search+T

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.