What does a URI identify?

URI stands for Uniform Resource Identifier, which we use every day to distinguish Web pages. Right now, you're at the resource identified by 'www.ktheory.com'. Basically, the URI is what's in the address bar in your Web browser.

Several architects of the Web are wondering what URI's actually identify. Taking Jon Udell's example, the URI 'http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/ 0679600108/qid=1027958807/ sr=2-3/ref=sr_2_3/103-4363499-9407855' could signify

  1. A book about a whale

  2. A web page selling a book

  3. Another URI, since the '0679600108' part is the ISBN of Melville's Moby Dick

  4. All of the above

The question is largely academic, and certainly not unique to the Web. Philosophers have pondered the relationship between a signifier and the thing signified since before Plato's idea of forms. In Genesis, the first thing Adam does is name the creatures of the Earth (2:19). Without a name, it is hardly possibly to have a conceptual understanding of an object, much less attempt to communicate with someone else about the object. This is an ageless question, whether the URI identifies the map or the territory. Fortunately, it isn't necessary to have an answer to make systems that are efficient and easy to use.

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