Friday, December 21, 2007

Resource Representation and Discoverability

We now seem to be entering the phase where we are in the process of reclaiming the web. Who are we reclaiming it from? Why, from no one else but the hordes of software developers.

The web has been hijacked by software developers. It is only natural that the people who dedicate their lives to becoming as intimate with the machines as is humanly possible get to be the people who take center stage in building the web. But, there is trouble in paradise. The web is, in its essence, the exact opposite of the machines. The web is all about humans.

Now, software developers are humans, however they are humans who value serving machines more than they value serving other human beings. Because of that, the web is a horrific place right now, fully dedicated to serving the machines.

This terrifying state of affairs must change. And the only way it will change is if humans reclaim the web, pry it out of the slaves-to-the-machine greedy hands, and install it at its proper place -- as a platform for serving the needs of the human mind and the needs of the human social dimension.

Resources and representation

As has been argued elsewhere, resources on the web are mere abstractions. They are not the tangibles that one could indulge in. At best, one can hope to consume the representation of the abstract resources scattered around the web.

It is often erroneously assumed that resources are directly exposed on the web, in their raw form. One example would be the unanimous conviction that URLs are web's native resources. Thus, a URL such as is viewed as a web resource.

Nothing could be further from the truth. A URL (such as is not a web resource, it is merely a representation of a web resource. There seems to be an abstraction labeled as and hosted somewhere on the web. But what that abstraction (i.e. really is, we have no way of knowing.

What we can learn about is one or more representations of that resource. For example, one representation of the resource is its URL. Another one could be the list of all the sites offered by And so on.

What's the use of representation?

Some people fail to see the usefulness of the representation. They'd much rather get their hands on the resource itself, instead of beating around the bush of resource representation. The best way to explain this problem is to employ assistance of some heavy duty science:

Map is not the territory

This famous premise was issued by Alfred Korzybski, one of the seminal thinkers who helped shape the communication and information theory.

A map is the representation of the territory. Without the map, we'd be lost when traveling through the territory.

In a similar fashion, resource representation could be viewed as a map that eases our voyage through the territory (i.e. the resource we're exploring).

Very few people tend to question the usefulness of maps. It is our hope that, similarly, people will learn to embrace the usefulness of the resource representation.


The web is intended for human consumption. Humans are notorious for having fairly constrained short-term memory buffer, and are thus forced to consume information in a piecemeal fashion. The architecture of the web is therefore tailor-built to serve exactly that constraint -- consume the resource representation at a fairly leisurely pace. Expecting humans to consume the resource representation in a single giant gulp would be utterly unrealistic, and so the fundamental architecture of the web is based on the principle of discoverability.

What that means is that, on the web, we are serving byte-sized chunks of resource representations. These byte-sized chunks are intended to be consumed by human users pretty much at a glance. Any need for consuming more, for learning more, gets fulfilled by letting the users explore further, allowing them to discover more intricate details of the resource representation.

Away from the sociopath web

Today's web is mostly built by humans who crave serving the machines. As such, the way resource representations are typically architected on the web today belies the optimization to the way machines consume information. There is typically very little discoverability offered on most web sites, and the consumers of the representation are usually expected to digest insanely vast quantities of intricate information in a single gulp.

It is painfully obvious to even a very casual observer that the web today is not tailored for easy consumption by humans. It is as if some sociopaths, who lack any degree of empathy with fellow human beings, have built most of the web sites in operation today. Come to think of it, sociopaths is the fair characteristic of individuals who value interactions with the machines more than they value interacting with other human beings.

It is high time we start working on getting out of this sociopath hell.