Reformulating the Web Architecture

So, accepting that URIs with fragments are generally a broken piece of architecture for the Semantic Web and that information resources are not adding any real substance, here's how I see the Web Architecture being reformulated for use with the Semantic Web:

  1. A hashless URI should be allowed to denote any resource whatsoever. Documents, books, people, galaxies and unicorns. There is no ambiguity here, the URI denotes a single thing. More than one URI can denote the same thing, so I can have a URI that denotes the city of London, and Danny can have a different URI that also denotes London.
  2. A representation of a resource can be obtained by issuing an HTTP GET on a URI. The representation is a sequence of bits that somehow stands in for the resource the URI denotes. Content negotiation can be used to select an appropriate format for the representation, withouth changing the actual resource being denoted. Perhaps my URI denoting London can respond with an HTML document containing essential facts and figures about the city, a JPEG aerbyial photograph, an SVG streetmap or a sound recording of the sounds encountered while in the city itself. None of these things are London, but they all can stand in for it in some limited fashion. I could retrieve them all to obtain a better sense of London itself, but I cannot actually obtain London using HTTP.
  3. URIs containing hashes are constrained in what they may denote and have an inherent ambiguity due to their reliance on the particular representation obtained. Their denotations vary depending on the URI plus a set of HTTP headers used during the request.
  4. There is no such thing as an "Information Resource". All resources are made equal. However for many resources, the only representation available happens to be identical to the resource itself. Still, you cannot obtain the actual resource using HTTP, but you can get a copy in the form of a representation. The majority of HTML documents on the web behave in this manner, a single representation that is a copy of the resource itself.

These aren't huge changes and they're backwards compatible with the existing web. On the other hand they greatly reduce the reliance on fragment identifiers and they encourage people to use real unambiguous URIs to refer to things other than documents, weaving the Semantic Web right into today's Web.

For background, you might like to read my earlier posts on this subject:

Permalink: http://blog.iandavis.com/2007/11/reformulating-the-web-architecture/


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