Supplemental Tools

Topic: Supplemental Tools

Definition
- What is it?

o A Supplemental tool in IT is a tool that is not crucial to the application or program’s primary functions, but rather helps to enhance user experience (UX). Supplemental tools help IT users navigate through applications and programs with more ease of use.

- What platforms do they run on?

o Supplemental tools run on a variety of platforms, generally matching whichever platform the primary application or program runs on. If the primary application or program runs on an operating system such as iOS, Windows, Linux, or Android, the Supplemental tool will generally run concurrently.

- What do they involve?

o Supplemental tools add a variety of different functions to programs and applications. Some help users find updates more easily; others help users gain more out of their UX through adding on additional functions (i.e. Add-Ons and/or Extensions).

Origin/History

- One of the earliest Supplemental tools that are still used widely are RSS feeds.

o RSS, or Rich Site Summary, is a format for delivering constantly updating web content. Many online publishers that update their content regularly offer their content as an RSS feed to whoever wants it, so that the users can stay easily informed on the latest content. RDF Site Summary, the first version of RSS, was created by Dan Libby and Ramanathan V. Guha at Netscape. It was released in March 1999 for use on the My.Netscape.Com portal.
• There exist a variety of different RSS readers including software that are available for different platforms and web-based readers as well.

- Other examples of Supplemental tools that are in use today include the following:

o Chrome Web Browser Extensions
• Widgets that help enhance Chrome UX. (examples include EBates which alerts users to any potential cashback promotions on online shopping web portals, or Grammarly which works as an autocorrect for text typed on a web page)

o Upgrading clients such as the Curse Client for a variety of games. Curse.com, started by Huber Thieblot, was originally a way to organize the numerous add-ons that were designed for World of Warcraft, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). As demand skyrocketed with the increase in the game users, Curse, Inc. was created.

o Different “mods” or modifications created for altering the content of video games. Mods are largely use to create an alternate UX, and are especially popular in First Person Shooters (FPS) and Role Playing Games (RPG). As with any other supplemental tools, mods cannot be run independently, and require the user to have the original software to run the modifications.

Case Study: Atom

- How does it work?

o The Atom Syndication Format is an XML language used for web feeds, while the Atom Publishing Protocol (AtomPub or APP) is a simple HTTP-based protocol for creating and updating resources. Web feeds allow software programs to check for updates published on a website; the site owner may use specialized software to provide a web feed.

o The Atom format was developed as an alternative to RSS. Ben Trott, an advocate of the new format that became Atom, believed that RSS had limitations and flaws – such as lack of on-going innovation and its necessity to remain backward compatible – and that there were advantages to a fresh design.

- How is it used?

o Atom was specifically designed to replace RSS, to clarify some of the ambiguities and consolidate multiple versions of RSS.

o Major differences between Atom and RSS include the following:
• Date formats: Atom uses rules specified by RFC 3339, whereas RSS 2.0 relies on the use of RFC 822.
• Atom’s standard xml:lang attribute makes it possible to specify language context for every piece of human-readable content in the feed, unlike limited RSS vocabulary. It also supports the use of characters outside the US ASCII character set.

o While the elements of the RSS vocabulary are generally not reusable in other XML vocabularies, the Atom syntax was specifically designed to allow elements to be reused outside the context of an Atom feed document.

- Strengths and Weaknesses

o Atom’s strengths are its flexibility compared to RSS. While RSS had a more rigid structure that didn’t allow for anything other than its own vocabulary, Atom’s use of Extensible Markup Language (XML) allows its elements to be reused outside of the context of an Atom feed document.

o Atom’s weaknesses showed largely during the early stages of the Atom project. A lack of decision-making process made it chaotic, and lack of momentum can be said to have caused lack of adoption. Although it has become an IETF Proposed Standard, and many major companies such as Google have adopted Atom, the use of the more familiar RSS formats have continued. Many sites choose to publish their feeds in only a single format, and lack of clarification on the differences between Atom and RSS feeds have led major news articles about web syndication feeds to use the term “RSS” as a blanket term, covering RSS 1.0, 2.0 as well as the Atom format.

- Future

o As the necessity for different languages to be cross compatible emerges, Atom may have a future in the fact that its syntax is designed specifically to allow elements to be reused outside the context of an Atom feed document. However, in order for Atom to become more mainstream and eventually replace RSS, major tech companies such as Google or Apple must openly advocate for the change. As long as there is any confusion between what is an RSS versus what is Atom, RSS feeds will prevail. Additionally, with other data-interchange formats that pop up as innovation happens, there is also a chance that both RSS and Atom may be replaced by something entirely new.

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