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[Gnu-arch-users] FOSDEM substitute

From: Thomas Lord
Subject: [Gnu-arch-users] FOSDEM substitute
Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2006 12:08:08 -0800

Since I won't be at FOSDEM I'm not preparing a talk or slides.  I am,
however, writing a brief series of short essays about the topic I
meant to speak about.

This is the first in that series of essays.

              The Kings English: What Do Links Point At?

  Consider a typical W3C, XHTML link:

        <a href=""; [...]>google</a>

  By the time your web browser fills in form details, cookies, and so
  forth a link boils down to just:

        ~ a URL
        ~ an HTTP request

  To "follow the link" is to send that request to the host indicated
  by that URL and receive a reply.

  What happens when you issue a request?  One way to look at it is
  that you are calling into a very large, distributed program with
  many well known subroutines and data tables.  For example, this
  program looks up the host name in the DNS tables ultimately
  maintained by ICANN; it looks up the IP address in routing tables.
  When execution reaches the final server, the operating system calls
  Apache which in turn calls your favorite module.  There is a large
  hierarchy of subroutine calls, right down to subroutines responsible
  for just a tiny part of the page returned to you (such as an ad or
  the content-space on your blog page).

  People modify that very large program in real-time.  The rights to
  make modifications to some subroutines and tables in the hierarchy
  are traded, loaned, and leased.  For example, a registrar is in some
  sense responsible for all of the code to handle an entire top-level
  domain.  A domain "owner", for the duration of their lease, is in
  charge of the subroutines for just that domain.  The rights to
  modify the big distributed "web program" are recursively carved up
  and leased.

  A link indicates a URL plus a request.   In other words, a link is
  a pointer to a piece of commercial real estate -- a pointer to 
  location in the subroutine tree.   A link is a short-hand name for
  specific legal rights that somebody, somewhere, may rent.

  You may think to yourself "I will link from my essay to the
  Constitution," or "I will link from my essay to the Wikipedia
  article on Thomas Jefferson".  In fact, though, you can do neither.
  Instead, the best you can do is to refer to those documents
  indirectly.   You can say "I link to the document stored in room A,"
  or "I link to the document stored in room B".  You can only hope 
  that those rooms will continue to contain the document you meant for
  as long as people want to read your essay.

  Hyperlinks are some new kind of word -- a new vocabulary.  Sometimes
  they are used as nouns, verbs, adjectives, interrogatives ... but in
  all cases they have a specific meaning -- a definite thing referred

  With the language of W3C hyperlinks, we may speak only of property.

* Positive Consequences

  There can be no doubt that there are positive consequences of having
  to speak only in the "King's English" of W3C links:

  The "right to define a subroutine" of the big web program is often
  best exercised by building.  In an effort to improve their web
  properties and put them to productive use people have poured
  billions if not trillions of dollars into networks, machines,
  software, and services.  The rent charges for web real estate have
  driven a privately-funded building-out of the net in general.

  The syntax and psychology of domain names is such that some names
  naturally have higher value than others.  `' is likely
  to be worth more than `'.  Some
  domain names -- simply by virtue of the name -- have a greater
  chance of being put to greater productive value.   The stakes are so
  high that millions are poured into the most valuable properties
  (e.g., `') leading to a trickle down of investment that
  benefits the web as a whole.

  Above all, everything on the Web is paid for, one way or another,
  with very little of that funding coming from charity or government
  spending.   Significant portions of the web territory are productive
  enough to return a profit.

  All of that nice economic consequence is the direct effect of
  limiting links to point only to real-estate.   It is valuable
  for many, especially corporations, to put stable, linkable content
  at an easy to find place on the web.   The only way to do that
  is to own and improve virtual web real estate.   The flurry of
  build-out spending naturally follows.

* Negative Consequences

  We could define a "Web Author" to be:

        A person who is able to create stably linkable 
        documents on the web.

  We could define an "Archive Quality Hypertext" to be:

        A collection of mutually linked web documents
        whose content can be freely copied and served
        from arbitrary locations without loss of semantic

  The link-only-to-real-estate property of W3C links (as commonly
  used) means that the only way to be a Web Author is to hold the
  lease for part of the URL + Request real-estate and then to exercise
  your rights under that lease to modulate the contents of that
  real-estate.  The right to write, on the web, must be purchased and
  is quite expensive.  (The right to write on the web is *so* precious
  that very tiny slivers of it -- such as a blog account -- are
  valuable enough to be given away as promotional items.)

  The link-only-to-real-estate property of W3C links also means that,
  for the most part, archive quality hypertexts simply *do not exist*
  on today's web.  If four biotech labs around the company each put up
  wikis with lots of linking between them, odds are not good that the
  content after five years can be copied cleanly and set aside in
  pristine form in the archives of the Weidner Library.

* The Challenge, Then

  Can we improve our implementation of "hyperlink" in such a way as to
  move some items out of the "negative" column and add some to the
  "positive" column?  Can we do this without unwanted, unintended


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