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September 19, 2006

New URI schemes - just say no

A little thread has just emerged on the W3C URI mailing list, the conclusion of which (so far) can be summed up more or less as:

  • use http URIs to identify stuff, and
  • make it possible to dereference those http URIs to useful representations of the thing that is being identified.

Sentiments that I very much agree with, and I've given presentations and written in the reasonably recent past (To name: persistently: ay, there's the rub, Persistently identifying website content and Guidelines for assigning identifiers to metadata terms) reaching much the same conclusion.

In his presentation about Public Resource Identifiers (linked from one of the messages in the thread), Steve Pepper suggests that the use of http URIs as identifiers is:

No longer subject to paralysing controversy

Yeah, right!  While I agree with most of his presentation, that particular statement doesn't tally with my experience - perhaps it's true in some alternative Utopian W3C reality?  After my presentation about using http URIs at the DCC Workshop in Glasgow, at least two people suggested that I was a "creativity stifling Luddite" (or nicer words to that effect!) for saying that "the only good long term identifier is a good short term identifier" and "the best short term identifier is the http URI".

Well, perhaps they were right... but I still don't feel like I've ever seen a convincing argument as to why, in the general case, we need to invent new URI schemes rather than simply make creative use of the existing http URI scheme.

The W3C draft document, URNs, Namespaces and Registries, lays out some of the reasons why people choose to develop new URI schemes, and offers counter arguments as to why they should think carefully before doing so.  Again, I very much agree with the general thrust of this document.  Inevitably there's a certain kind of comfort in inventing one's own solution to problems, rather than re-using what is already on the table, and I'm probably as guilty as the next person of doing so in other contexts.  But every time we do it, we need to be very clear that the benefits outweigh the costs of adoption and the possible damage done to interoperability.

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