Cool URIs don’t change; but they should, sometimes

Everyone knows that cool URIs don’t change:

When you change a URI on your server, you can never completely tell who will have links to the old URI. They might have made links from regular web pages. They might have bookmarked your page. They might have scrawled the URI in the margin of a letter to a friend.

When someone follows a link and it breaks, they generally lose confidence in the owner of the server. They also are frustrated – emotionally and practically from accomplishing their goal.

It the the duty of a Webmaster to allocate URIs which you will be able to stand by in 2 years, in 20 years, in 200 years. This needs thought, and organization, and commitment.

How does this work with the right to vanish?

Sometimes you move on and exercise your RightToLeave a community or a locality. In MeatSpace, people eventually forget what you said and did, unless you erected monuments. In other words, our real self is gradually dissociated from the idea people in a community have of us. Conversely, in our new home we have a fresh start: people generally won’t start calling our old home area to find out about us.

This is not so on an OnlineCommunity: wiki pages are always “fresh”, forums and UseNet keep archives. It’s impossible to tell a still-held belief from a once-held one. Furthermore, when we arrive in a new place in MeatSpace, people there don’t generally know all about what we did and said in the past, which is something we have grown used to since the mass urbanization of society (previously, village life was more invasive). The internet being easily searchable, in CyberSpace our reputation may precede us. Conversely, our past follows us.

Sometimes I want to reorganise my online life, shuffle things around and not put in hundreds of redirects that are just going to make it easier for people to find things I wrote once that I no longer believe in, and that anyway will probably never be followed.

Oh, but look, I’m being inconsistent: I do actually think it’s important to keep URIs working — even if the content’s gone, it’s better to leave a page explaining why, in its place. The right to vanish can still be exercised.

(I don’t think I’ll bother publishing this little ill-thought-out thing. I’d hoped it was going to be the first of my new daily blog posts… but no. Tomorrow, perhaps. I just don’t have the energy for decent writing at the moment!)