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RE: "information resource"

From: <Patrick.Stickler@nokia.com>
Date: Thu, 2 Sep 2004 19:43:05 +0300
Message-ID: <1E4A0AC134884349A21955574A90A7A50ADCAD@trebe051.ntc.nokia.com>
To: <Patrick.Stickler@nokia.com>, <michael@neonym.net>
Cc: <www-tag@w3.org>

An explicit question:

Given the URI http://example.com/someDog which I assert
denotes a particular dog (an actual animal), if one is able to
submit the request

GET /someDog HTTP/1.1
Host: example.com

and in a successful response, one receives a JPEG image of
the dog in question, does http://example.com/someDog denote 
an "information resource"?


My reading of the latest draft of AWWW leads me to conclude
yes, it does. The actual dog is, according to AWWW, an
"information resource".

(leaving aside the issue of whether such a conclusion will confuse
 or disturb anyone, I wish to focus on another, deeper and more
 serious point of confusion and tension that has been reflected
 in this thread)

TimBL seems to be arguing that no, it does not (or should not) be
considered an "information resource", because a dog
is not a document, or image, or similar kind of resource.

The fact that both I and TimBL come to different conclusions
based on the same document indicates that there is a problem
with the definition of "information resource".

And I would like to explore what I think is the source of this 
confusion and conflict.

Originally, it seems that "resource" simply meant some
"body of information" which might be encoded in various
forms (document, image, sound bite, etc) and different
formats (HTML, GIF, MP3, etc) and a URL denoted some
body of information via which a representation of that
body of information could be retrieved. 

Variant representations of the same body of information were
expected to be true and correct expressions of that body of
information, despite encoding differences. The nature and
range of representations was originally quite narrow and 
specific, and the relationship between a resource and its
representations was very tight; so tight, that often the
resource and representation were (incorrectly) considered
to be equivalent.

Fair enough.

But then folks started abstracting the model in order
to achieve various disparate goals (including the SW)
positing that a "resource" could be anything, and thus
URIs could denote anything, and thus there could be
representations of anything, not just bodies of information.
This revised view of resources required a more open and 
generalized conception of representations and the relationship 
between resource and representation (in terms of their nature 
and inherent characteristics) broadened considerably.

And then the problems began, because not everyone agreed
just how wide things should be broadened, and different
folks started drawing the line in different places as to
what were and were not resources, and what the nature of
those resources were, and their relationship to representations, 
yet all the while using the same terms and thinking they were 
all meaning the same things.

One of the chief goals of producing AWWW is obviously an 
attempt to sort out this mess and provide a firmer foundation
for future evolution of the web. Great. That's certainly

But resolving conflicts of view and interpretation means that
not everyone can be accomodated and not everyone will be happy.
AWWW, however, seems to be trying to make too many folks happy
and thus failing to sufficiently resolve these fundamental
conflicts of view/interpretation.

TimBL seems to be essentially opposed to the fully general view,
where a resource can be anything and a URI can thus name anything;
rather, sticking to the narrower view that "proper resources" are 
only those corresponding to "bodies of information", and only those
should be considered "information resources" when having one or
more representations, and only such resources should be denoted with 
URIs (rather than URI refs); i.e. things that are not bodies of information 
should be denoted by URI references with fragment identifier and not a 
URI (i.e. they should be modeled as "secondary resources").

While such a view can perhaps be seen as "truer" to the original Web 
design (and coming from TimBL, that's not surprising) such a
view is far from optimal for those aiming to keep the Web and SW
unified; as the SW is most certainly *not* constrained to 
resources which are merely bodies of information and the SW
certainly *does* use URIs (without fragment identifiers) to
denote any kind of resource, not just bodies of information.

Attempts to force this narrower interpretation of what a resource
can be and what a URI can denote on the masses have failed. Period. 
There are far, far too many resources which are not bodies of information 
already long denoted by URIs (without URI references) to go back (even 
if a majority of folks wanted to -- and it seems the majority doesn't).

While positing the concept of "secondary resources" seems
reasonable, that does *not* mean that a majority of users
agree that all resources not corresponding to "bodies of
information" should be modeled as secondary resources. If
TimBL and other like minded individuals prefer to do so, fine.
But that does not mean that it is less acceptable for others
not to -- and there are clear examples where use of URI refs
limits potential functionality for interacting with resources.


The TAG needs to make a decision on this issue.

Either "resources" (a) can be anything that can be named, including
abstract concepts, astrological bodies, persons, etc. and URIs
can denote anything or (b) they must be constrained to things that
correspond to "bodies of information" which can be expressed in a 
digital form accessible via the web, and URIs can denote only such
bodies of information.

The latest draft of AWWW still attempts to accomodate both
views, leaving far too much to interpretation -- and
perpetuating the present chaos by allowing those holding view (a)
and those holding view (b) to both reference the same document
as supposedly supporting their view/interpretation and use the same 
terms as defined by that document -- yet *still* in actuality 
disagree about critically fundamental aspects of web architecture.

The interchanges in this very thread illustrate this continuing
ambiguity in AWWW and the very real conflicts of interpretation.

AWWW should resolve these conflicts of view/interpretation, not
perpetuate them by distilling the wording until either interpretation
is possible.

Continuing to accomodate the "resource = body of information" view,
however implicitly hidden in clever wording, is simply going to 
perpetuate the confusion and prolong the pain...


Patrick Stickler
Nokia, Finland
Received on Thursday, 2 September 2004 16:43:31 UTC

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