Harvard to House Blog Standards

Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society has acquired the most popular specification for Internet weblogs, RSS 2.0, making Harvard a leading institution in one of the Internet’s most popular trends.

RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, describes a format used by computer software to automate online compilation of various news sources.

RSS is used both by major media organizations—including the BBC and the New York Times—and public diaries called weblogs, or “blogs.” According to Dave Winer, a fellow at the Berkman Center and author of the specifications, blogging will be “much like e-mail is today” within a few years.

UserLand Software, of which Winer was CEO until 2002, had owned the copyright. It transferred the ownership of the specifications when it found itself in competition with other companies using the format. Being both guardian of the format and a software developer resulted in an “uncomfortable situation,” Winer said.

Winer said that RSS is “consistent with the philosophy of Berkman, which is that the Internet should be open and free, usable by everybody.”

And he said that the transfer would put RSS on a “solid foundation” as a widely-available specification. The Berkman Center will license RSS under the Creative Commons license, which allows anyone to copy or change it, as long as they provide attribution and keep the same license.

Winer says Harvard has become a leader in blogging technology and is “doing something good for the Internet” by taking ownership of the specifications.

The Berkman Center hosts a server, blogs.law.harvard.edu, that allows anyone with a Harvard-based e-mail address to create a free weblog.

—RAFE H. KINSEY