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Terminology Matters

Everyone’s favorite cranky old jackass Dave Winer is all a’flutter about WordPress and Tumblr implementing the Twitter API in a post titled How open standards are created. The meat of his post is a bunch of typical Winer bullshit about how wonderful it is that WordPress and Tumblr have implemented the Twitter API (which is true) and how that fact may well make the Twitter API and open standard.

I’m going to ignore, for the time being, the patent absurdity of Dave’s assertion. Last time I checked, for something to be an “open standard” it had to be both open, which The Twitter API hardly is; and a standard, which I don’t think being used by yourself, and two blog hosting companies qualifies as. It’s not really that that irks me about this piece.

What bugs me here is something that Winer does incessantly, and really chaps my ass. He completely misuses and conflates two different technical terms. To quote:

If Facebook were to implement the Twitter API that would be it. We’d have another FTP or HTTP or RSS.

No, Dave we wouldn’t. The Twitter API is just that, an Application Programming Interface. FTP, HTTP and RSS are communications protocols.

I know that, to the layperson this might seem like a trivial distinction, but it really isn’t. An API is just a description of methods that allow someone to programatically interact with a piece of software. A communication protocol is a specification that describes how to transmit data over some medium. In fact, the Twitter API uses HTTP to transmit data.

As I wrote above this may seem trivial, and if it was just some random tech journalist making the mistake I wouldn’t even notice it. But Dave Winer isn’t some random tech journalist. To quote from Dave’s own bio:

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software…he received a Master’s in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin…

The man should bloody well know better, but this is just the latest example of Dave doing this kind of thing. Of course, the real reason why Dave does this is simple. He has an overwhelming obsession with tying every single development in web communications back to RSS, his one claim to fame.