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What's in a URI? : Page 2

Have you ever wondered about the syntax of a web resource name? Take a look at the semantic web through one of its lowest-level specifications.

Clicking as a Request
The key breakthrough of the web was that networks of content could be made accessible to creatures with very small brains. Most people wouldn't do well if they had to remember every unique identifier or address for finding content in such an enormous information space. By giving everything names that are associated with the resources people seek, they can leave themselves breadcrumbs in the form of bookmarks and find the trails left by others. The act of clicking is the act of requesting a piece of addressable content. And, of course, that content is addressed with URIs.

The resource abstraction is obviously fundamental to the web as well. This notion gives you the flexibility to work with static and dynamic content in the same manner. You're able to experience the same content differently depending on how you ask for it. The resource is backed by something (that is, documents, processing services, data), it has a name, and you can ask for it in a particular context. That context makes all the difference and can include time, user preferences, software configuration, and so on. When you reach out into the web and ask for something, you are really asking for it in a very specific way.

Today's Slashdot page and tomorrow's Slashdot page are radically different, but they have the same name. The content you see on your phone is different than the content you see on your computer. Your preferences may affect both the style and the contents of a particular resource. Hence, the name of something doesn't wholly define what it is. This situation is not exactly what Juliet had in mind—in act 2, scene II of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet—when she tried to imagine that Romeo's character transcended his name:

"...O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself."

Not only are the following URIs (names) different, they fundamentally represent different resources. They might even look different from one day to the next:

  • mailto:montaguer@cities.verona.it
  • http://myspace.com/romeo1562
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_Montague
And thus the story of woe for this Juliet and her Romeo: you cannot escape your context.

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