Design Issues


Architectural and philosophical points

These statements of architectural principle explain the thinking behind the specifications. These are personal notes by Tim Berners-Lee: they are not endorsed by W3C. They are aimed at the technical community, to explain reasons, provide a framework to provide consistency for for future developments, and avoid repetition of discussions once resolved.

I have found that, having started this set of notes in 1990 in the (for me) novel medium of hypertext, it has been difficult to tear free of it: my attempts to lend hierachical or serial order have been doomed to failure. Further, as ideas and these web pages have evolved, it has been important for me to be able to reorganize my thoughts, grab a new leaf, shake the tree and regard it as the root. So the reader needs to be aware of this, that each page may be an attempt to put across a given concept serially, but if you are looking for an order of concepts and subconcepts, you have as much hope as you would with words in the dictionary. I can sympathise with Ted Nelson whose Litterary Machines has "a Chapter Zero, several Chapters One, one Chapter Two, and several Chapters Three", not to mention with Ludwig Wittgenstein whose Philosophical Investigations have only paragraph numbers for structure.

The notes are in a constant state of flux, sometimes minute by minute, sometimes decade by decade. Their status varies - some have typos and spelling errors, and represent thoughts half expressed, wheras others described resolved issues which have become fundamental architectural decisions in the conceptual infrastructure of the Web. Again, something in me resists the urge to draw a line and move things from here into a "done deals" space. I try to represent accurately the status of a given page in the section above the rule at the top. Definitive documents, reviewed by W3C members and others, you will find elsewhere.

Neither have I found it easy to restrict myself to separated technical or philosophical arguments and somehow this I feel is also important, the sharpening happening, after all, where the knife meets the stone.

I did draw a line between the really old ones whose dates I couldn't necessarily even find, and which were too out of date to find themselves linked into any current discussion. Hence the brown archival section on the contents page, and the brown archived notes it points to. These are really only available for completeness of archival, and not suggested reading. The other remarks here do not apply to them.

For all its (or because of its) lax flexibility, I have personally found this space a useful one. I have used it to place opionions and explanations which I have needed to express, and have found it useful to be able to express them later to others. But also I have found it a personally useful excercie to review the state of order and disporder from time to time, part of the intuitive process of making a new step. But that is all personal use and, and for the hestiations I have just outlined, I have never felt that the whole collection has been worthy of recommeding as reading as a work in itself.

Tim BL October 1998

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