The Self-Describing Web

Noah Mendelsohn

Noah Mendelsohn, The Self-Describing Web, World Wide Web Consortium, TAG Finding 07 February 2009, February 2009.

The Web is designed to support flexible exploration of information by human users and by automated agents. For such exploration to be productive, information published by many different sources and for a variety of purposes must be comprehensible to a wide range of Web client software, and to users of that software. HTTP and other Web technologies can be used to deploy resource representations that are self-describing: information about the encodings used for each representation is provided explicitly within the representation. Starting with a URI, there is a standard algorithm that a user agent can apply to retrieve and interpret such representations. Furthermore, representations can be what we refer to as grounded in the Web, by ensuring that specifications required to interpret them are determined unambiguously based on the URI, and that explicit references connect the pertinent specifications to each other. Web-grounding ensures that the specifications needed to interpret information on the Web can be identified unambiguously. When such self-describing, Web-grounded resources are linked together, the Web as a whole can support reliable, ad hoc discovery of information. This finding describes how document formats, markup conventions, attribute values, and other data formats can be designed to facilitate the deployment of self-describing, Web-grounded Web content.


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