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Re: Comments solicited: "Providing and discovering definitions of URIs"

From: Noah Mendelsohn <nrm@arcanedomain.com>
Date: Wed, 03 Aug 2011 15:54:30 -0400
Message-ID: <4E39A776.2060904@arcanedomain.com>
To: Jonathan Rees <jar@creativecommons.org>
CC: www-tag@w3.org
Jonathan Rees wrote:

> Other work and activities call, so I will set July 15 as the day by
> which I'd like to get comments.

Well, I certainly blew that.

The good news, is that overall I think this is terrific, which I presume is 
a comment you can handle late :-).

I do have one quibble which is just about terminology, albeit rather 
fundamental terminology.  The rest of this email is just an 
elaboration/attempt-to-justify that quibble.

Quoting from [1]

> The question may appear to be limited to RDF and its derivatives, but
> tothe extent that there is supposed to be a single meaning for each URI
> common to RDF

I confess I trip over the above, and indeed also to some extent with the 
reference in the title to ">Definitions< of URIs".

I tend to take the narrow view of URI as being a string, known to obey 
certain syntactic constraints, and serving as the identifier for a resource 
in the Web.  From that narrow perspective, it seems wrong to say that the 
URI >has definitions< of the sort you are discussing (I.e. its definition 
might be a Web page, a dog, a number, etc.)

Now, I understand that there is a parallel to the fact that words in 
natural language have definitions, and those words are, in writing, 
connoted by strings of letters.  In that sense, the string of letters 
"house" has a definition as something 3 dimensional that you might live in, 
as opposed to just being the character string, and it's tempting to use 
that as a precedent for giving definitions to URIs.

For me, the URI case is different because the specifications are so clear 
that the term URI is for the string itself.  It would be as if, in English, 
we defined the term "word" specifically to connote the string of characters.

I don't know if I'm explaining my concern clearly, but I'd be happier with 
something along the lines of "Discovering the referent of URIs", or 
"Discovering properties of the referents of URIs." I'm still tripping over 
the notion that the character string "http://example.com#somedog" has a 
definition that we might wish to discover.

Looking in a bit more detail at some of the examples:

At the start of section 2.1, the example is "Alice wants to >refer to<  a 
particular earthquake. Alice "mints" a new URI (one that is not yet in use) 
with the purpose of using that URI to refer to the earthquake." I don't see 
anything being "defined" there. Does that not support the notion that what 
others need to discover is not the "definition" of the URI, but 
(information about) its referent?

In section 3.3 you say "A recent example is RFC 5870 for URIs defined to 
name geographic locations." Isn't this a bit clumsier than saying that the 
URIs name geographic locations (or if you prefer, that they 'refer' to them 
or 'identify' them)?  Saying that they are "defined to name" them seems 
clumsy, and again leaves me feeling that talking about define/definition 
isn't working so well.

Even if my concern has merit, I expect that the necessary changes would be 
non-structural, if perhaps widespread. Again, I find the document overall 
to be excellent, very useful, appropriately detailed, balanced. etc. Thank you!

Noah

[1] http://www.w3.org/2001/tag/awwsw/issue57/20110625/
Received on Wednesday, 3 August 2011 19:55:06 GMT

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