In my experience, users make standards, although I’m fairly sure that they don’t understand that they do.
RSS coalesced around RSS 2.0 because that’s the version the New York Times feeds used.
Podcasting became a phenomenon because NPR used the RSS 2.0 enclosure format to distribute its radio programs over the net.
I don’t think either of those would have happened without the support of these two leading editorial organizations. At the time, there were very few programmers in either shop (2002 for the RSS and 2004 for podcasting). So you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have major influence.
In the first case, the Times gave the rest of the news world something to emulate, and that’s exactly what they did. And NPR was and is such a huge part of the podcast-like content, that whatever they did was bound to be the standard.
If I wanted to displace an installed standard like RSS (I don’t of course) I wouldn’t look to nerds to make it happen. I’d look for an editorial organization that for whatever reason agrees that RSS needs to be replaced. I don’t guess you’d find many. Hard to imagine why they would care.
Update: Scott Gatz, in a tweet: “When we integrated RSS into MyYahoo, we called media cos & showed them NYT & the RSS2.0 spec, we also made all our own feeds 2.0.” Exactly what I would have done in his shoes. When you see the opportunity of a new standard, jump on board with both feet. Each level has its own rain-makers. Scott and his team at Yahoo also, certainly, brought RSS 2.0 to new highs. We all won because of their contribution.
There’s more: The second guy makes the standard.