The inclusion of the enclosure element in the RSS 2.0 specification opened the door for what Ben Hammersley called Podcasting. The enclosure element was originally introduced by Dave Winer to allow Christopher Lydon to associate mp3’s of his radio shows. Adam Curry and other’s software took enclosures and developed software such as iPodder to automatically download mp3’s (for more information on this see the increasingly excellent wikipedia).
Recently I was mentally bemoaning the lack of developers who provided RSS/Atom feeds that let me know when their software has been patched, or when new versions of their software is available. Then a thought occurred to me – if software such as iPodder can automatically download mp3s referenced in RSS enclosure elements, then why couldn’t a similar system automatically download software patches and new versions, and perhaps even instal them?
At it’s simplest you could use existing technology to download the patches, then notify the user that new patches are available. Taken to the logical extreme and using some application/os specific plugins such software could also enable you to install the patch/upgrade. Even better, information on the plugin required could be contained in the RSS/Atom feed itself in some way – you subscribe to the update feed in this new bit of software, the program then detects which plugin is needed to enable installing the plugins, and does the rest for you.
The simplest plugins would simply download and run the executable. Others might work with OS’s built in upgrade mechanisms, such as debian’s apt-get – others still could use language specific management techniques such as Ruby Gem’s. This would be useful for a single user, but imagine how useful this would be in a large organisation – rather than using often expensive centralised installation software, system admins could create their own RSS feeds of the needed patches and enable automatic download and patching for all company workstations.
It’s possible that some of the more advanced features such as identifying he needed plugins, downloading via BitTorrent or detailing OS specific updates (or perhaps even general update criteria such as “upgrade only if you have version 2.11”) that you might need to use an RSS extension, but even using simple RSS enclosures you could achieve a lot.
So the name? Well, it’s not simply mp3s any more. I originally thought “Patchcasting” which has a nice ring, but still seems limiting – “Softwarecasting” is too unwieldy, so I was very happy to come up with Bitcasting – which seems like a blanket term to cover the distribution of any binary format using an RSS feed to determine when and what to distribute. Annoyingly enough a company called “Digital Bitcasting Corporation” already exists…
The uses are varied, and the technology is there, but as you know if you’ve spent any time reading this blog (unlikely given the stats) then I very infrequently follow through with this stuff, so I’m pinging LazyWeb too.