The Power of URLs (or: addresses for your information)

One thing that tech people working in the Web area are familiar with are URLs — the so-called Uniform Resource Locators. A URL is basically a short piece of text that uniquely identifies something, and if two parties are exchanging such an URL everyone knows what the other party is referring to.

In the context of the World Wide Web, URLs are often denoted as "addresses", and this analogy is in fact quite good: when you have the precise address of some building that you want to go to, you can be quite sure you will find it (given that you have a decent map, or you manage to find someone along your way who knows the street you are looking for). The same happens on the Web: when you enter a URL into your browser, you can be quite sure that you will be taken to the right Web page. In this case, the Web infrastructure does all the navigation work for you.

URLs are extremely powerful, because once you can make sure that you can identify something, you can also use that identifier and do something useful with it, for instance: you can embed them into a Web page and click on them, which will bring you always to the same Web page. Think of URLs as of words appearing in a dictionary: a dictionary gives meanings to words, and the Web gives meaning to URLs. So URLs are like words that have a well-defined meaning, which is provided by the referenced item (like, a Web page).

Now, for Web pages it is very common to have URLs. For things on your computer, like files, emails, or contacts, this is not so common, and this makes it difficult to say something about them. It makes it difficult for people to talk to each other when they are not familiar with the words one is using, and it is even more difficult for computers because they have much less intelligence to come around ambiguities.

One crucial thing that we are working on is to give a globally unique address (aka URL) to every item that might be interesting to you, beloved user: every file on your disk, every note in your jotter, every contact in your address book, every appointment in your calendar deserves to have its own address. It is easy to say, "what is the address of the Web page you recommended me last week?", but it is much more difficult to say, "what is the address of the file containing the project report I wrote two months ago?". So we need URLs for all your information to make sure we can do useful things with it, like describing this thing (for instance, add a note to a file), sharing it (send a link to a co-worker or friend), or connecting different things (by setting a link that points from one thing to another one). Having unique addresses for digital items makes them more connected, and helps you to do useful stuff with your information.