Remember the famous Wired Magazine feature declaring “Push” the next big thing? (March 1997). Push was going to be so significant it would kill the browser:
“The Web browser itself is about to croak. And good riddance. In its place…”
The feature is famous both for exemplifying Wired’s tendency to make huge, sweeping declarations and for being so painfully wrong (the public ignored push, PointCast died a painful death, and Wired scraped egg from face).
Now, seven years later (Wired 12.05, not online), the magazine has the cojones to run a story “The Return of Push,” asserting that the idea’s time has finally come. Author Gary Wolf makes the case that the rapid rise of RSS has finally proved Wired right. There’s only one problem: RSS is a pull technology. Just sent this letter to firstname.lastname@example.org:
Gary Wolf is right about one thing (“The Return of Push,” Wired 12.05): RSS is fulfilling some of the original promise of push. But that doesn’t mean RSS is an example of a push technology. If I leave a plate of cookies on my doorstep and invite you to come take one every hour, would you then say that I brought you cookies?
In order to call something “push,” the publisher has to willfully send it to the user (and, ipso facto, to know something about that user). Thus, an email newsletter is an example of a push technology. In contrast, RSS “feeds” sit on a plain vanilla web server waiting for an anonymous client to come pick them up. This is plain old http and apache we’re talking about – no magic “push” protocol makes RSS delivery different from the rest of the Web. I request a web page; I pull it toward me. RSS works exactly the same way. If RSS is a push technology, then so is Tim-Berner’s Lee’s original web.
RSS probably is the Net’s next big thing. But it sure isn’t push.