Python Notes

Friday, February 04, 2005

What's the U in URI?

It's nice when one finds someone else talking about something that's seemingly evading his own understanding. Permanent URIs (or URLs, for old hats like myself) are one such a beast, at least for me. Roberto de Almeida wrote a good article on URLs for blogs a little while ago. I only found the link today but it still reads fresh. It helped me to organize my thoughts on this subject in some surprising ways.

The U in URL can mean two things. U as in uniform, or U as universal. According to the W3C, the standard acronym reads as the former. It means (at least for me) that the format is uniform; in other words, an URI has a definite format, that can uniformly parsed and understood by the agents. It's pretty much a computer jargon, an arrangemente between two computers on how to talk to each other. However, it's the second interpretation that carries more meaning for us human beings.

A permanent link should be just like that: permanent, and also, univocally associated with a piece of content. We humans are particularly well equiped to deal with content in multiple -- and quite often, seemingly contradictory -- formats. We can easily recognize if the content is the same, despite a slightly different format. It seems to me that what matters in a URI for us, human users, is the universality. I wish to be able to enter the same URI, at any point in the network, at any given time, and get to the same content. That's the point. All the rest is (quite probably) computer speak. Not that it doesn't matter -- it does matter for practical reasons. But in human terms, universality is what counts.


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