At the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles today, one of the announcements was a new-look Start.com - Microsoft's new web-based RSS Aggregator and portal. Start.com was first released in prototype mode in March this year and after a series of public iterations went live on 1 September. Now, according to the new Start Developer Center, Start.com is extensible and offers tools for developing what Microsoft is calling "web gadgets". These are DHTML-based components which can be created by external developers and "consumed" by Start.com.
Start.com also claims to be "adding Behavior to RSS" and is introducing what it calls an "Open-ended Application Model". All this adds up to what Microsoft is calling "the web-applications of the future", which it defines as applications that integrate RSS content with behaviors and services.
Over at the Microsoft Gadgets homepage, they're promising that the web-based Gadgets for Start.com will extend the functionality of a user's Start.com homepage - with "anything from custom calendars to service integration."
Most interesting though is MSN architect Scott Isaacs' blog post detailing the developments. He makes this bold claim:
"Up until today, most web applications were designed as closed systems rather than as a web platform. For example, most customizable "aggregator" web-sites consume feeds and provide a fair amount of layout customization. However, the systems were not extensible by developers. With start.com, the experience is now an integrated and extensible application platform."
Of course start.com isn't the only RSS Aggregator to invite developers in. The likes of Newsgator and Blogbridge also have platforms that developers can build on. Indeed Newsgator has just announced an API developers contest (good timing!). One thing this announcement from Microsoft definitely does - it puts the challenge out to Google to open up their RSS platform too. So far Google has been slow to release any substantial RSS (or Atom) initiatives. Perhaps this move by Microsoft will push them along.
As for gadgets, well that sounds like a level above what Bloglines has been implementing piecemeal over the past year in its "Universal Inbox" strategy. Back in March 2005 (the same time the start.com prototype was made public), Bloglines started adding things like tracking of package deliveries and weather feeds. However Bloglines has fallen off the pace in recent months, disappointingly because they had a huge head start in the web-based RSS aggregation market. Is Ask Jeeves planning anything interesting for Bloglines, or is it just going to sit on it?
The RSS Aggregator market will be shaken up by Microsoft's announcements - and not just because of start.com. Michael Gartenberg reported today that Outlook has integrated RSS support in the upcoming Office 12. This makes RSS aggregators a commodity, a point I made in my post earlier this week about The RSS Space. Indeed I said that the real value in the future of RSS Aggregation services will be in creating value-add services. I believe Microsoft's start.com has got the ball rolling on that one.