Monday, September 25, 2006

Pillars of Hercules

While researching the commonly expressed concepts regarding naming and addressing, I came across a duet of posts which, in my opinion, exemplify perfectly the noxious effects resulting from entrenched and subjective positions. Having recently discovered this amusing summary list of "fallacious arguments", I though it would be fun to identify if and where the author has been using some of them. In effect, I was able to pinpoint a few interesting usages.

Time and again, we see individuals and organizations inventing new URI schemes in order to tackle the problem of "names" versus "addresses". That is, they want to provide some sort of a globally unique identifier for "This Thing" independent of where representations of that thing might reside. Almost inevitably, these individuals and organizations fall into the trap of thinking that an "http" URI is somehow an address and not a name and is, therefore, inappropriate for their purpose. They are mistaken. I used to believe this too and I was wrong. A new URI scheme is not necessary, nor does it actually solve the problem.

This is a Statement of Conversion. This is defined as a weak form of asserting expertise. The author is implying that he has changed his mind over time, and now that he is better informed, he has rejected a previous opinion.

All along his two posts, the author does nothing but assert that an URL is an URI. Fair enough, but if I am not mistaking this is also what RFC3986 does. But after reading both the RFC and these posts, I am still trying to figure out why would every URI always have to be represented as an HTTP URLs?

URIs are names. They're all names. There's no technical reason to invent new URI schemes to address the goal of providing names that can be created in a distributed fashion, that unambiguously identify a resource, are persistent, and can be used to retrieve representations.

I am not certain if this quote falls under Argument from Adverse Consequences or under Causal Reductionism. The later seems perhaps more appropriate, as in effect the author reduces the array of reasons that could potentially lead to choosing an URI outside the HTTP scheme to the "technical reason"

I agree with the author, there is not technical reason to create new schemes, only real world cases and requirements. I would feel awkward using "there is no technical reasons" to justify a limitation of the possibilities offered to an end-user in the context of his core business, wont you?.

There may be circumstances under which there are compelling reasons not to use http URIs, but no such circumstances have yet been convincingly articulated to me.

This one quote falls clearly under the Argument from Authority. In this area of expertise, the author is actually claiming to be more expert than anyone else in his readership. Now, I leave it to you to decide if there is also an implied claim that expertise in the area is worth having. As to me, I recon a good knowledge is certainly worth having.

Arguments against http URIs based on the cost or inconvenience of maintaining web infrastructure to support access to those URIs don't hold water. I accept that there are some issues of user expectation here, but I don't find those issues sufficient to warrant the invention or use of "pure identifiers"

Once again, we have Argument from Authority, probably combined with a touch of Reductive Fallacy in under valuating the impact of "user expectations".

What is the use of any technology that does not correspond to user expectations? Who can pretend he can grasp every possible concept and use case? For me, pretending that the current state of the internet and the associated infrastructure services are cast in bronze is nothing but utopia. It would deny us any possibility of invention. As one of the comments states, DNS is an important part of the infrastructure which relies on "economy". And as a consequence, the usage of domain names in URLs is driven by a market. To my modest knowledge, there is nothing more variable and subject to change than a market. I would not bet on market driven domain names for persistence or disambiguation.

In the end, there are certainly many cases where an HTTP URL is all what is necessary to name a resource. Web pages are there to assert this. But reducing the naming of all the internet objects to using HTTP URLs is in my opinion both partisan and short sighted. In many real life languages we find common names and family names. They serve different purposes and are used in different contexts. For example, refering to someone as “John Doe the 3rd” does not imply you can derive its location from its name. Why would the case be different for URIs? They do not exist per se, but only to help us solve real world issues. I would have appreciated an approach exposing with slightly more impartiality the different purposes where URIs can be used, such as unique name for a singular thing, address or location, and unique name for a conceptual thing to be used unambiguously.

In the ancient times, the popular belief and the stubbornness of the experts of the time made the Pillars of Hercules the western end of the Earth where the sun sets. Later we found there was a new world beyond them. Why would our internet age be so different… In the meantime I am still researching.

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