Participant observation / moving house

[12 December 2008]

Some ill defined thoughts are occupying my musings.

Some time ago, my colleague Liam Quin decided to include advertising on his site, which makes available high-quality scans of public-domain images he finds in … well, in old books. When we have discussed it, he has occasionally observed that one of his goals in doing so is to understand Web technology and Web usage from a slightly different vantage point. I understand him to mean that it is one thing to have a deep factual knowledge about the specifications which undergird and constitute the web, but a different thing to experience them in the process of running a web site. By accepting ads, and experimenting with different advertising programs, and watching his search engine rankings, Liam says, he has learned a good deal.

In a way, it sounds a bit like what one reads about participant observers in introductory anthropology courses. Some kinds of knowledge are more accessible from the inside than from the outside.

A second observation has concerned me for some time. The Semantic Web proposes to use URIs to denote things we want to talk about, and this has the nice side effect that proposals to mint a new term for something are safe from name collisions while still not needing to go through any central registration authority. All of my colleagues at W3C, from Tim Berners-Lee on down, recommend the use of HTTP URIs for such purposes. But new HTTP URIs can be minted, in practice, only by people who own domain names, or who have arrangements with people who own domain names. (It’s a bit like freedom of the press, which guarantees the right of uncensored publication to those who own a press. Fortunately, the Web makes owning a virtual press fairly simple, but it does tend to involve, again, owning a domain name.)

These lines of thought, together with some other considerations that need not concern us here at the moment, have led me to think it’s really high time I moved into the domain-owning classes.

So: We’re moving, or rather, we’ve moved. Messages in a Bottle is now hosted at instead of the old address on

I believe all existing references to posts and comments in the old location should be successfully redirected to the same posts and the same comments in the new location; this was a bit harder than it really ought to have been (details in a later post). If any reader finds exceptions or failures, please let me know at the email address whose username is “mib” and whose host name is “”.