This post was imported from my old Drupal blog. To see the full thing, including comments, it's best to visit the Internet Archive.
There are a couple of additional things that I think are worth drawing out.
It’s very powerful to provide multiple formats at close variants of a given URI (preferably using content negotiation to serve up an appropriate one). Kyle illustrates this with the use of
.patch extensions on
/pull URIs within GitHub, which of course complement the usual HTML view.
At legislation.gov.uk, you can add
/data.xml to provide the underlying XML for each content-bearing page and
/data.feed to provide an Atom feed for each search result. Similarly, linked data API pages such as http://education.data.gov.uk/doc/school are available in a variety of formats, by appending an appropriate extension to the end of the URI.
The biggest benefit of this approach is that the human-readable views of the information that’s being presented is closely bound to the computer-readable views. This aids developers by providing context and descriptive information that helps them to better understand the data the API is providing to them, far better than separate documentation would.
A secondary benefit is that the information required to generate a human-readable version of a page is likely to be useful to other reusers of the underlying data. Basing the HTML pages of a site purely on information available via the API increases the quality of the API.
Kyle touches on the use of fragment identifiers (the bit of a URI after a
#) to point to scrollable positions within a page, but they can be used for more than that. The important and useful thing about fragment identifiers is that they are stripped from the URI before it is submitted to the server. You can therefore have multiple fragment identifiers on the same actual page, which can then be served from a (local or intermediate or accelerator) cache without adding load to the server.
Within legislation.gov.uk, we’re planning to use this technique in the presentation of the results of free-text searches. Following a search for text within legislation, the visitor will be presented with a list of items of legislation that contain sections that contain that search term. From there, they will click through to a table of contents in which the relevant sections are highlighted; this must be a standard query URI.
What we ideally want to support next is for the visitor to click through to a relevant section, and then on to the next section and so on, but ensure they can click through to the highlighted table of contents at any point. This behaviour isn’t essential as the highlighted table of contents is always accessible through the Back button, and it doesn’t change the actual content of the page, but it’s helpful – an enhancement of the page.
So we will use a fragment identifier of the form
This technique is not uncommon in AJAX-based websites, for example the URI for my page on Twitter is http://twitter.com/#!/JeniT. Google treats fragment identifiers that begin with a
! in a special way, requesting
?_escaped_fragment_=/JeniT in this case (though it seems that Twitter responds to this request with a
301 Moved Permanently pointing to the original URI, rather than a static copy of the page that could be understood by Google).