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news and thoughts on and around the development of the iCite net
by Jay Fienberg

RSS-Data = object-relational flat tables

posted: Oct 1, 2003 10:04:37 PM

Jeremy Allaire today posted RSS-Data: A Proposed Format, which he subtitled "Expanding the role of RSS into data-oriented applications". I think RSS-Data sounds fine, and look forward to its development.

One thing that I think is interesting about RSS (and Atom) is that it is very much conceptually akin to flat database table files. In other words, there is some basic metadata (or header info) about the table / feed, like its name and a date; and then there are rows / items / entries with a set of required and optional columns / elements.

Compare my RSS 2 feed with my RTS (Really Tubular Syndication) feed mock-up. One is practically a reformatting of the other, and I think the underlying pattern is just a pretty time-tested and proven way to structure data. (Note: my RTS feed doesn't show the header yet.)

So, here is how I understand RSS-Data:

With RSS-Data, for each new data attribute (in the relational sense), instead of adding a column / element for each to an RSS 2.0 item, the data is encapsulated using the XML-RPC serialized data structure. So, one or more columns are added, but they contain a complex datatype that looks like XML-RPC.

Because XML-RPC's "data structure" is about representing procedure (generally, OO method) calls and the parameters used to call them remotely, RSS-Data could be thought of as a way of storing encapsulated object instances in tables. This can be, of course, a good thing—a way to structure an object-relational table using a markup language.

The relational aspect is the catalog (or RSS 2 feed channel data) and the table (or RSS 2 items). The object oriented aspect is the parameters and values (in XML-RPC format) stored in columns (e.g., in the items).

I might be reading the RSS-Data idea wrong, in part because I tend to look at these things as converging in many ways towards what is described in Date and Darwen's Foundation for Future Database Systems: The Third Manifesto, and in part because what I am working on with the iCite net also imagines this kind of convergence in terms of what are commonly called "feeds".

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