Once upon a time, a little company called Netscape invented a format for exchanging content called RSS, which stood at the time for "Remote Site Syndication". Later, UserLand picked up the spec and applied it to its blog tools. renaming RSS "Really Simple Syndication". Since most blogging tools today automatically publish an RSS feed, RSS readers or aggregators have emerged as a popular tool for keeping up with new daily posts.

These RSS readers are emerging as a popular tool for business and are finding a home in enterprise apps as well. Because of the simplicity and the general availability of RSS feeds, they are actually taking a lead from their more structured cousins like HR-XML. Fans of structure see RSS as a distraction from real business. RSS lacks, they say, the structure needed for example for staffing applications to make much use of the data. Myself, I like conflicts like this. It makes me feel nostalgic for the old days in computer science like in the 1980s when the overlords of object-orientation tried to run us assembly programmers out of town.

As a vendor in the software space, I have to declare a bias: we use HR-XML in our own products and are coming out with a new product that targets those wanting to move to HR-XML as a standard. But that doesn't make me a die-hard fan of structured data, because structure can be easily oversold and the consequences for pushing an immature structure on others can be quite serious. The reality is that even with structured models like HR-XML a lot of parsing and interpretting needs to be done.

For example, is the country code for Italy ‘Italia’ as it’s written in Italian or ‘Italy’ as it’s written in English? In a similar vein, the ‘highly structured’ MMREF format issued by the federal government for submitting tax data is getting implemented by federal, state and local governments in many different ways on many different systems – and we have to support them all! Talk about tyranny. These government agencies face no consequence for the chaos caused by the lack of maturity in their supposedly highly structured format. I can’t cry too loudly because complications like this push companies trying to maintain internal systems into the arms of providers like us.

Here’s a comment on parsing and RSS vs HR-XML from a job board company:

HR-XML is more like a full featured markup for sharing HR related
documents. What I'm trying to do here is stretch RSS a little bit
to be more usable for feeding jobs. Perhaps people should just do
what I'm doing currently and feed their jobs as if they are RSS
news, but it seems like a shame. Perhaps my spec is a half step to
a problem that can better be solved by HR-XML.org. But I feel there
is a need/use for job feeds via RSS that is simple and to the
point. While I'm trying to make Module:JOB as feature rich as
possible, I'm trying to just stick to the basics. I feel that if
Monster.com wanted to have their core system use an open spec, this
spec should be able to satisfy them, but my real target audience is
RSS parsers that could make some minors changes to their RSS app to
allow job displaying with some advance filtering/searching
capibilities.

I think this writer has got it right. RSS has already got an established community of users, and the most practical approach is to use that momentum and take advantage of it with parsers in enterprise software systems.

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