The Proprietary Syndication Formats

If you publish stuff on the web, you’re outputting HTML at URLs for people to read. And it’s good form to provide an RSS feed as well (maybe JSON if you’re hip). That’s 2-3 formats for your content out of the gate, which is effort, but hey, that’s the job as a publisher: get your content out to as many people as possible. If syndicating into another format is where people are, it’s likely worth doing.

But it got a little weird a few years back.

Google was pushing AMP. AMP was a little bit like HTML, but more restricted and had alternative elements (e.g. <amp-img>). The expectation wasn’t that you don’t publish HTML, it was that you also publish AMP. They dangled the carrot of appearing in “Top Stories” in search results, which was very important for many publishers (so was more like a stick than a carrot). Then they backed off AMP.

… using the AMP format is no longer required and that any page, irrespective of its Core Web Vitals score or page experience status, will be eligible to appear in the Top Stories carousel.

April 2021

Facebook, similarly, had Instant Articles. The impetus was the same as AMP: we think the web (mobile, specifically) experience is bad, so we’re stepping in to fix it. Publish your content in this alternate format, and it’ll be faster, cleaner, better, and incidentally, you can’t bring your own ads and business model, you’ll coalesce to ours. Mercifully, the format was just augmented HTML, but you still had to submit and manage it through an API. Now, Facebook is nuking it.

Apple is in on the game too with their Apple News Format. Arguably the most difficult of all of them to manage, as you have to deliver the article in a hyper-specific JSON format.

Big LOL from the docs:

With Apple News Format, you only have to author your content once.

Apple News is still kicking, but I can’t imagine the format they require is doing them any favors.

If you were a publisher and followed that welp, that’s just our job mentality to provide content wherever people are (which is awfully tempting), now you’re in 4-5 formats already, none of which are terribly “automatic”. And that’s not counting, ya know, video, audio, social media, and all the other stuff that has become content producers’ jobs.

Literally none of the big players I mentioned above were like just give us your RSS feed, which, looking back, is a little bananas. RSS solves many of the same problems they were trying to solve, like out-of-control JavaScript ruining the mobile web. And if they wanted to do fancy layout magic to the articles, well, take the raw content you’re already getting and… use computers? Don’t put the burden on the content producers.

Guess which format is going to outlast all these proprietary syndication formats. I’d say RSS, which I believe to be true, but really, it’s HTML.



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One response to “The Proprietary Syndication Formats”

  1. Farai says:

    I never really understood why amp needed proprietary tags?

    Google does ask for an RSS feed though Iā€™m not sure what they do with it

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