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WD-webarch-20031209: Authoritative metadata and the principle of decentralization

From: C. M. Sperberg-McQueen <cmsmcq@acm.org>
Date: 05 Mar 2004 00:12:29 +0100
To: W3C TAG mailing list <public-webarch-comments@w3.org>
Message-Id: <1078441948.2571.11.camel@localhost>

1.2.1, final bulleted list, final item.  It's clear that the world
would be a better place if specifications were more consistently
implemented and their nuances more consistently observed.  It's not
quite clear to me that the world will be a better place if we assign
all authority for document metadata to the server and remove all
possibility of overriding it in the document itself.  The principle
enunciated or illustrated here works well when the systems
administrator responsible for the server knows the character encoding,
content-type, etc., of each resource served, cares about serving
correct metadata, and knows how to configure the server to achieve
that result.  It works less well when any of those conditions ceases
to apply. 

It is not unusual (in my experience, at least) for the author or
provider of a document to know more about it than the maintainer of
the Web server; if the in-line metadata and the metadata provided by
the server are in conflict, it is not always my experience that the
server is right and the author wrong, and it troubles me to see the
web architecture document effectively disenfranchising the latter in
favor of the former.  

Section 3.4.1, Principle: Authoritative server metadata, says "User
agents MUST NOT silently ignore authoritative server metadata" and
discusses the responsibility of server managers in the provision of
metadata.  

This principle appears to mean that the only first-class citizens of
the Web are server managers.  Any content provider in the position of
controlling the content, but not the server configuration, is at the
mercy of the server manager; this situation is unproblematic when the
server manager takes seriously the responsibilities assigned here; it
seems likely to lead to problems in organizations where a typical
exchange between content provider and webmaster runs like this:

  Content Provider: This document needs to be served in UTF-8, not
  ISO Latin-1.

  Webmaster: I'm busy, I don't have time for this kind of thing,
  so get lost.

  Content Provider: Also, the expiration time should be thirty days,
  not two hours.

  Webmaster: Close the door on your way out, OK?

It seems to me that local authority on metadata would be an approach
more consistent with the principle of decentralization which governs
Web architecture in other respects.
Received on Thursday, 4 March 2004 18:13:19 GMT

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