What's in a name - Part 5

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After calling Plato an XML-Element, making movies out of websites and having several accidents with careless URIs, it seems we return to the very beginning of this series.

http://semantic.nodix.net/document/Politeia dc:creator "Plato".

Whereby http://semantic.nodix.net/document/Politeia explicitly does not resolve but returns a 404, resource not found. Let's remember, why didn't we like it? Because humans, upon seeing this, have the urge to click on it in order to get more information about it. A pretty good argument, but every solution we tried brought us more or less trouble. We didn't get happy with any of them.

But how can I dismiss such an argument? Don't I risk loosing focus with saying "don't care about humans going nowhere"? No, I really don't think so. Due to two reasons, one meant for humans and one for the machines.

First the humans (humans always should go first, remember this, Ms and Mr PhD-student): humans actually never see this URI (or at least, should not but when debugging). URIs who will grace the GUI should have a rdfs:label which provides the label human users will see when working with this resource. Let's be honest: only geeks like us think that http://semantic.nodix.net/document/Politeia is a pretty obvious and easy name for a resource. Normal humans would probably prefer "Politeia", or even "The Republic" (which is the usual name in English speaking countries). Or be able to define their own name.

As they don't see the URI, they actually never feel the urge to click on it, or to copy and paste it to the next browser window. Naming it http://semantic.nodix.net/document/Politeia instead of http://semantic.nodix.net/concept/1383b_xc is just for the sake of readability of the source RDF files, but actually you should not derive any information out of the URI (that's what the standard says). The computer won't either.

The second point is, a RDF application shouldn't look up URIs either. It's just wrong. URIs are just names, it is important that they remain unique, but they are not there for looking up in a browser. That's what URLs are for. It's a shame they look the same. Mozilla realised the distinction when they gave their XUL language the namespace http://www.mozilla.org/keymaster/gatekeeper/there.is.only.xul. Application developers should realise this too. rdfs:seeAlso and rdfs:isDefinedBy give explicit links applications may follow to get more information about a resource, and using owl:imports actually forces this behaviour - but the name does not.

Getting information out of names is like making fun of names. It's mean. Remember the in-kids in primary school making fun of out-kids because of their names? You know you're better than that (and, being a geek, you probably were an out-kid, so mere compassion and fond memories should hold you back too)..

Just to repeat it explicitly: if an URI gives back a 404 when you put it in a browser navigation bar - that's OK. It was supposed to identify resources, not to locate them.

Now you know the difference between URIs and URLs, and you know why avoiding URI collision is important and how to avoid it. We'll wrap it all in the final instalment of the series (tomorrow, I sincerely hope) and give some practical hints, too.

By the way, right after the series I will talk about content negotiation, which was mentioned in the comments and in e-Mails.

Uh, and just another thing: the wary reader (and every reader should be wary) may also have noticed that

Philosophy:Politeia dc:creator "Plato".

is total nonsense: it says, that there is a resource (identified with QName Philosophy:Politeia) that is created by "Plato". Rest assured that this is wrong - no, not because Socrates should be credited as the creator of the Politeia (this is another discussion entirely) but because the statement claims that the string "Plato" created it - not a Person known by this name (who would be a resource that should have an URI). But this mistake is probably the most frequent one in the world of the Semantic Web - a mistake nevertheless.

It's OK if you make it. Most applications will cope with it (and some are actually not able to cope with the correct way). But it would not be OK if you didn't know that you are making a mistake.

Originally published on Semantic Nodix

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What's in a name - Part 4
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What's in a name - Part 6