First we think the Web is HTML; then HTTP; then we realize it’s URL.

As I was sitting in my car listening to KQED on the way back from work and I recently remembered an interview of Tim Berners-Lee by Terry Gross on Fresh Air that took place in 1999. TBL was promoting his book, Weaving the Web. At that time I was very familiar with Web technologies (first Web site in 1994 and I had been writing Web applications as CGIs more or less non-stop since 1995) but I hadn’t realized that the URL was the key building block of the Web, way ahead of HTTP and even more ahead of HTML. I don’t think I had ever asked myself the question, but if I had I would probably have sorted them backward. Hearing TBL in this interview describe how, before the Web, people would create small files that described where to find information in a human-readable way (I assume it must have been something like “telnet to this machine, use this logon/pwd, go to this directory, start this application, load this file”) really made me understand the importance of this URL thing I had taken for granted for many years. To this day I vividly remember this interview and the Eureka feeling when I realized the importance of URLs as an enabler for the Web.

I don’t know if the fact that this interview, which was targeted at the general audience of Fresh Air (more used to hearing Jazzmen interviewed than geeks), taught a Web-head like me something important is a testament to TBL’s vision, Terry Gross’ skills as an interviewer or my stupidity for not having grasped such a basic concept earlier.

Going back to WS-Addressing EPRs for a minute, what I was thinking recently is that these EPRs look a bit like the old “do this, do that” files that TBL talked about and that were replaced with URIs. Where “do this” becomes “put this header in your SOAP message”. Unlike the “do this” files, the instructions in the EPR can be machine-processed and that’s a key difference. But still, I can’t help getting this deja-vu feeling. Not that I have ever encountered these “do this” files myself but TBL made me see them one day in 1999.

[UPDATED 2011/9/27: Before pointing to this piece on Twitter (in response to this post by Joe Hewitt) I just have to change the awful title (for the record, the original title was “Thinking about EPRs like Proust”; yeah, I know). Whenever someone uses “la petite madeleine” (or Schrödinger’s cat for that matter) to illustrate a point you know it’s going to suck, so I removed it. And while I’m at it, I am replaced all the references to “URI” by “URL” which is less pedantic (and more accurate in this context). There. I usually don’t like to edit old entries, but this one was so bad it made almost no sense (not to mention the fact that no-one cares much about EPRs anymore).]

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