File format legacy

Last year I had to migrate the news blog section of the Staple! site from an ancient version of Movable Type (version 2.x) to Blogger. Even though Blogger has recently dropped features and seems mostly deprecated in favor of Google+, for this site there were a ton of existing users on Blogger. Upgrading just made sense.

However, what a file format mess. Export in Movable Type’s custom text format; import in Blogger’s Atom format. So first step is to find a service that’ll convert between the two, then manually fix up usernames so it imports properly. I exported, tweaked, and imported this file at least a dozen times before getting it right.

I was so frustrated because this wasn’t just accidental bugs. Developers made conscious choices that led us to this compatibility dead-end. They bet against Dave Winer and lost at a pivotal time in the development of blogging.

We had a format that was perfect for both blog syndication and as an interchange format between systems: RSS. Instead, some developers criticized RSS, then proceeded to create new products that have not been well cared for.

That is now part of their legacy. 10 years after blogging went mainstream, the end result of reinventing the wheel isn’t better software, it’s user frustration trying to get anything to work together.

This lesson keeps playing out, as if we’re doomed to repeat it with each new generation of file formats. Here’s this week’s post from Eran Hammer declaring OAuth 2.0 a failed format:

“The web does not need yet another security framework. It needs simple, well-defined, and narrowly suited protocols that will lead to improved security and increased interoperability. OAuth 2.0 fails to accomplish anything meaningful over the protocol it seeks to replace.”

If you have a choice, always pick the old boring format that works above the new hotness that is only theoretically better.