In Philip K. Dick's story "The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford", Doc Labyrinth has a new theory for the origins of life : "Eons ago, in the remote past, a bit of inanimate matter had become so irritated by something that it crawled away, moved by indignation". He builds a machine that includes an irritant so powerful that it brings inanimate matter to life.
Now this strikes a chord with the origins of the Echo project. Apart from low-level bickering, the syndication/blogging developer community as aa whole has been remarkably inanimate. Every time anyone wanted to build an application there is a whole slew of different different formats and APIs to consider. The specifications for these range from near-rocket science to 2 minute back-of-envelope scrawls. So it's not at easy deciding what to generate, before you even consider how. Things may be difficult at the producer side, but for the consumer it's even worse. There are several different possible RSS syntaxes, but what's worse the specs tend to be interpreted in different ways. The implementation difficulties are annoying, but still people have been prepared to do it. On top of that, it turns out that some parts of the specs have been misinterpreted all along. So just to get today's baseline functionality involves a considerable amount of irritation. Yet the community has a high tolerance threshold and remains relatively static, hoping that somehow the irritations will sort themselves out.
The core versions of the most popular syndication formats are frozen, which means to make any real innovation it's usually necessary to step outside of this core. It has been possible to create feeds that include extensions but that are still valid against the core specs. But things have been getting progressively worse - uncertainty has been caused by suggestions that despite being valid there still might be something wrong with them. The spectre of the software giants taking over the blog/syndication domain is a theme raised whenever any movement away from the core specs is in the air. More annoying is that the spreading of this fear and doubt appear to have been politically motivated.
Put this all together and the developer community has been suffering extreme levels of irritation. Well it finally looks like that irritation became sufficient that the community spontaneously came alive and started crawling away from the things that have been causing the irritation.
Dick's story ends with an animated man's shoe (the brown Oxford of the title) disappearing into a hedge with an animated woman's shoe (high-heel, of course), and rustling sounds ensue.
Let's hope the Echo project leads into a similar happy ending.[Danny Ayers]