One would not be blamed for the optimistic assumption that there are some sort of grand unifying principles to the way the web, and more generally the infosphere as a whole is constructed. With all the data in the known universe, one would also assume that in order to even attempt an estimation of the quantity of that data, we would have developed some sort of praxis to do so. While I appreciate such tendencies towards optimism to an extent, I am afraid this post will likely shatter that illusion.
As is the case with all types of constructs, it is useful to establish naming conventions which allow the individual parts and resources to be differentiated from each other and more importantly, so that they can interact with each other on a system-wide level. The reigning champion in this domain is the Uniform Resource Identifier, or URI. This is the commonly used convention we currently have in place to name resources within the world wide web. A common derivative of this concept is the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), and the somewhat similar Uniform Resource Name (URN).
Most internet-enabled individuals will be very familiar with the URL as the string of characters atop most web browsers that when provided with a URL, takes the user to their requested webpage. The URN on the other hand might be more common among academics, or bibliophiles and a well-known example is the International Standard Book Number system, or ISBN. A key difference between a URL and a URN is that the former inherently provides both information as to how to access the resource, as well as access itself; and the URN does not. An ISBN does not imply to the user how to actually acquire the book they are interested in.
Returning to my initial point however, these conventions exist within a larger discourse and in no way operate as primordial pillars of our conceptualization of data. These are all tools that we have developed to help us understand and make sense of a system which without constant adaptation on our part, quickly evolves into uncertainty. This fundamentally epistemological understanding of data and our relationship to it truly blurs the lines between computer science, and philosophy more generally.
Given the context of our data-driven world, investigating something as base as a naming convention prompts even further scrutiny of our other assumed structures and orders. Now before the veil is completely drawn, and this post leaves you questioning the infinitesimal partitions of your reality, I’d suggest examining the principle at work here within the infosphere more specifically. What I see and often struggle to explain about the library and information science discipline is it’s scope. When we consider what is in a name, we are confronted with the duality of it’s significance. Shakespeare seemed to believe that despite what we call it, a rose smells as it smells. Is this the case for the URI? Or does the nature of this web we have spun for ourselves beget new foundations.