Declarative Amsterdam

On the design of the URL

Notations can affect the way we think, and how we operate; consider as a simple example the difference between Roman Numerals and Arabic Numerals, where Arabic Numerals allow us not only to more easily represent numbers, but they also ease manipulations of numbers and calculations with them. One of the innovations of the World Wide Web was the URL. In the last 30 years, URLs have become an ever-present element of everyday life, so present that we scarcely even grant them a second thought. And yet they are a designed artefact: there is nothing natural about their structure -- each part is there as part of a design. This talk will look at the design issues behind the URL, what a URL is meant to represent, and how it relates to the resources it identifies, and its relationship with representational state transfer (REST) and the protocols that REST is predicated on. The talk will consider what mistakes, if any, were made, and with hindsight how if at all the design could have been improved. While it is too late now to change the design of URLs, we will consider what the lessons are that we can draw from their design to direct the future designs of notations.
Presentation, 9 October 2020
Steven Pemberton is a researcher affiliated with CWI Amsterdam, the Dutch national research centre for mathematics and informatics. His research is in interaction, and how the underlying software architecture can support users. He co-designed the ABC programming language that formed the basis for Python. Involved with the Web from the beginning, he organised two workshops at the first Web Conference in 1994. For the best part of a decade he chaired the W3C HTML working group, and has co-authored many web standards, including HTML, XHTML, CSS, XForms and RDFa. He now chairs the XForms group at W3C.