Ignore what you don’t understand.

This should be a basic law of the Internet, if it isn’t already.

It’s what we do in RSS, or any XML-based format. If you encounter something you don’t understand, don’t worry, just ignore it. The person who put it there was depending on you doing that. You shouldn’t call it an error. No need to freak out.

You don’t have to understand everything. No one does! ๐Ÿ™‚

This is one of those universal rules, much larger than just for techies. When we first introduced RSS, I wanted to link to the feed directly from my home page, with a little white on orange XML icon. The browser guys said “This won’t do, people will see it and freak out.” So they obscured it. Tried to make it look like a web page. It had the exact same content as the page you came from, but without the color and layout. It was even more confusing. Funny how that works.

When you make something look like something it isn’t people get confused.

Imagine if you lifted the hood on your car, and instead of seeing an engine, a battery, a bunch of wires and tubes that you have no idea what they do (if you’re like me) you saw another car interior. Seats, a steering wheel, a radio, etc. What would you think of that?

I like machinery that looks like machinery. I like the fact that I can lift the hood on my car and see what’s in there. Maybe someday I’ll be inspired to learn how it works. And then I’ll know how to find it. In the meantime, because I don’t understand it, I just ignore it.

  • People, living their daily lives, have “ignore what you don’t understand” experiences all day every day. It’s how you keep your sanity in our complex multi-level reality.

I encounter that in the user community for “Fargo”, which is a very diverse group of people, with widely varying interests and skills. Some are writers, and use the tools at a totally conceptual level, and others aren’t writers at all, and like the software because it’s like a Lego set, where you can put the pieces together in a lot of different ways. Because they all use the same tools, we get to have fun together. But sometimes the writers think they have to understand something technical. I try to say that they don’t have to understand it — but someone has to understand it for the whole thing to work.

So the rule applies to our user community. There’s never any harm in asking what something’s about. Anyone can understand any of it, with enough time and work. But if you don’t understand something, feel free to ignore it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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