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Forever is a long time: Real persistence for the Web

Henry S. Thompson
University of Edinburgh
Markup Systems
23 September 2009


  • JAR and HST have kept up an on-again-off-again conversation about our underlying unease regarding the official story about naming on the Web: authority, access, ownership, etc.
  • Since I didn't get a new draft of Dirk and Nadia finished, I thought I'd try to share our thinking with you, see if together we can shed some more light into these dark corners.
  • Jonathan is definitely not responsible for this presentation
    • But he does deserve credit for most of the good ideas herein

What's the problem?

  • Two problems
    • Which may not at first appear related
      1. The RFC 3986/AWWW story about URI denotation isn't quite convincing;
      2. http: URIs actually are vulnerable, at least in principle, at least in the long term

Persistence and authority: A story from Vancouver

  • Nearly two years ago Jonathan and I had a long walk and talk one evening, in which he tried to explain to me his concerns about what AWWW had to say about URIs as names.
  • He tried to explain a use case or usage scenario that motivated his concern.
    • I probably misunderstood it, at least in detail, but it's worth relaying none-the-less
      • It's helped me see some things, and I think it can help the rest of us
  • JAR was trying to put together a sales pitch to the Life Sciences community
    • For the use of URIs as official names for objects/classes of concern to that community
      • E.g. plasmids
    • With a story about authority (who says what names mean)
    • And about persistence
    • That he could stand behind
  • And the AWWW story didn't satisfy him
    • That is, he didn't think it would satisfy his constituency
    • For what he took to be good reasons
  • He contrasted the URI story with an existing story, namely Linnean taxonomic nomenclature for plant and animal species and genera.
  • Michael Sperberg-McQueen recently made a similar point, with respect to his work with the scholarly editions community

Another story

  • Does the owner of www.w3.org really determine the meaning of http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml?