Does 'Linked Data' need human readable URIs?
Last week I went to the 2nd London Linked Data meet-up, and one of the topics that came up was whether open linked data should have human readable URIs.
Now, a few days ago I was pointing out how The Guardian's URL combiner structure made it easy to add /football/ashley-cole to /culture/cheryl-cole to get a landing page joining the stories about the two together at guardian.co.uk/culture/cheryl-cole+football/ashley-cole. It is the human readability that makes our URLs easily hackable. 
In one of the panel sessions at the Linked Data meet-up, there was some debate about whether open linked data URIs should be human-readable. The implementation of persistent human readable URIs is tricky, but personally I favour the human readable every time.
During the meet-up session Jeni Tennison stressed that she was also in favour of the human readable. A question from the floor said they were concerned that by using the English language and imposing data structure in URIs we were limiting persistence and reusability. Jeni thought it was right that the UK Government should 'mint' URIs in English, and that the Chinese could 'mint' URIs in Chinese. She argued that 'machines don't need structure or readability, but humans do, and it is humans that write the programs that have to process the data'.
Tom Scott from the BBC took the opposite view. For areas where there would be lots and lots of individual bits of data, like programmes or music artists, he was very much sure that machine readable URIs were the right approach. Indeed, he said that he regretted the areas where the BBC had based their URL structure on copying Wikipedia's URL structure, because it wasn't stable enough. He said he would 'choose persistence over readability every time'. [In the comments below Tom suggests I've misquoted him]
Let's be honest though, this is all just about picking the right level of abstraction.
At some point, every URI or URL is a representation of some binary numbers in a database. Even if you have to maintain a complex matrix of redirect instructions, it is an awful lot quicker for a machine to recognise that /culture/cheryl-cole needs to point to /culture/cheryl-tweedy than it is for a person to parse her MusicBrainz ID of 2d499150-1c42-4ffb-a90c-1cc635519d33.
Tomorrow I'll have a round up of the remaining notes I made on the day.
 As asked on currybetdotnet the other day in a comment by Andrea Chellin: 'Am I the only one who finds it somewhat ironic that the tabloid Cheryl/Ashley Cole story should be filed under 'culture' on the Guardian site?' [Return to article]