• Blog
  • Informational

The Power of URI or Why Odysseus Called Himself Nobody

What is the URI and why is it so important for anyone dealing with data to understand the power of identifying resources in a unique and universal manner? More interestingly, what is the URI’s relation to the myth about Odysseus and the cyclops Polyphemus? In this article, you will read about this atomic element of the Semantic Web technology and its capability to enable the sharing and reuse of machine-readable data with minimum integration costs.

November 23, 2018 7 mins. read Teodora Petkova

There is a common thread running through one of the main building blocks of the Semantic Web technology – the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) – and the Greek myth about Odysseus who hides his name from a cyclops and manages to avoid being eaten by the one-eye giant. This common thread is the concept of naming.
Read our White Paper: The Truth About Triplestores!

Mr. Nobody, a Uniform Resource Identifier and the Challenge of Naming

The myth of Odysseus and the Cyclops has it that on his way back to Ithaca, the hero and his men ended up in the land of the Cyclopes – fierce, one-eyed giants. There, Odysseus was trapped in a cave of the Cyclops Polyphemus who ate two of the men the king of Ithaca was traveling with and was about to eat Odysseus himself. It is then, that Odysseus got Polyphemus drunk, told him that his name is “Nobody” and after that blinded the one-eyed giant.

Later, when the other Cyclopes asked Polyphemus: “Who blinded you?”, he responded: “Nobody.” With no proper way of naming the man who injured him, Polyphemus was unable to find him and seek revenge.

Before we embark on drawing our parallel about naming, let’s briefly unpack the term URI. URI is the acronym for Uniform Resource Identifier and, as its name points, it is used for identifying a resource or a thing that needs to be described. The “uniform” part of the term touches the need for a common way of describing resources, which can be used across different contexts and systems, aiming for a global, unique naming scheme.

As we wrote in The Truth about Triplestores  – a URI can be assigned to any resource be it physical or abstract:

All data elements (objects, entities, concepts, relationships, attributes) are identified with URIs, allowing data from different sources to merge without collisions. All data is represented in triples (also referred to as “statements”), which are simple enough to allow for easy, correct transformation of data from any other representation without the loss of data.

The idea of using URIs to identify ‘things’ (think for example authors, books, publishers, places, people, abstract terms, goods, articles, search queries, etc.) and the relationships between them is important for any data management endeavour aiming for a simple yet robust way to name data pieces in a consistent and interoperable way.

Now that we have a common definition of a URI, let’s put the myth about Odysseus and Polyphemus in the context of the Semantic Web technology and the increasingly important challenge enterprises face – that of data integration.

Imagine Cyclops was an algorithm (or a system) looking to talk to other systems (in our case his fellow Cyclopes). Given a false name, Polyphemus has no way of addressing the hero or, technically speaking, of properly identifying a resource. As a result, he is also unable to find him by “querying” other systems or, again in technical terms, by attempting to integrate information from them within his own “knowledge base”.

Without a unique, universal name in the memory of Polyphemus, no other operations (in our case finding and eating the legendary king of Ithaca) could be performed.  Systems would not be able to talk to each other or they will be talking about one and the same thing, using different names

The above scenario is exactly what happens when systems use proprietary IDs when naming things. An idea worth revisiting, especially if at a certain point they will be part of a data integration plan.

Polyphemus’s failure to name Odysseus teaches us something seemingly simple: If you can name a thing, you can talk about it. And that simple idea is a sound basis for naming resources with a URI as part of the Linked Data paradigm. Without a proper (read universal and unique) naming scheme, managing identity is terribly hard. Integrating data across diverse systems, today’s world golden fleece, even more so.

The Nitty-Gritty of a Global Naming Scheme

Practical systems need to access and mix objects which are part of different existing and proposed systems. Therefore, the concept of the universal set of all objects, and hence the universal set of names and addresses, in all namespaces, becomes important. This allows names in different spaces to be treated in a common way, even though names in different spaces have differing characteristics, as do the objects to which they refer.

Cit. The need for a universal syntax

Technically, a URI is a string of characters used to unambiguously identify a data object. As we saw, such data object can be any resource – from a column in a CVS table, to an event all the way to the location of a beacon on a store.

On the Semantic Web and within a Linked Data powered system (such as GraphDB), every resource has a URI. A URI can be the good old URL we all know or some other kind of a unique identifier. Unlike URLs (Web links), however, URIs do not necessarily enable access to the resource they describe.

For example, the string http://www.johndoesite.com/aboutme.htm, if used as a URL, is expected to take us to a Web page of the site providing information about the site owner – the person John Doe. The same string however can simply identify that person on the Web irrespective of whether such a page exists or not. Thus URI schemes can be used not only for Web locations, but also for such diverse objects as telephone numbers, ISBN numbers and geographic locations.

There are different “schemes” such as FTP: URI, an ISBN: URI, an HTTP: URI. The HTTP URIs are the ones that tie data to the Web and are required for working with Linked Data. They use the hypertext transfer protocol and present a global agreement on how we refer to things on the Web, access, share and describe them and allows us to seamlessly link resources across systems. A benefit no enterprise can afford to overlook. [Dive deeper in The Benefits of URI Addressability!]

In an enterprise context, URIs (as a way of uniquely naming a thing in a standard manner so that a host of systems can refer to them and use and reuse them) can remove a lot of data integration hurdles. Share on X Using a set of universal conventions to refer to any resource – within the enterprise databases or outside them – is beneficial for:

  • data exchange;
  • resolving identities across disparate sources;
  • data reuse;
  • cost-effective data communication between differing systems.

All the benefits of course come at a cost, which more or less comes down to several challenges:

  • modeling your data in a universal way;
  • conceptually defining the naming schemes you will be using;
  • properly disambiguating resources.

Epilogue: Don’t Store Mr. Nobody’s in Your Database

The reason we need a URI in the world of data-driven everything is one: data integration. And data integration, as complex as it might sometimes prove), starts with a simple concept: naming in a standard way, which allows machines to interoperate with data and its meaning across systems.

Arguably not all companies and applications need to bother with URIs. But those who are considerate about the the future of their knowledge and its interconnectedness, should be aware of the power a universal way of referring to data pieces brings to the well-integrated enterprise knowledge graph.

Interested in removing the Mr. Nobody entities in your database?

Download Now

Article's content

Marketing Expert at Ontotext

Teodora is a philologist fascinated by the metamorphoses of text on the Web. Curious about our networked lives, she explores how the Semantic Web vision unfolds, transforming the possibilities of the written word. From 2022 on, Teodora helps with the creation and curation of the Ontotext knowledge graph to foster information ecology out of marketing content that will enable relevant user experiences across Ontotext's universe.

GraphDB in Action: Smells Like Semantics Spirit

Read about a project called Odeuropa and a number of exciting applications delivered by it with our RDF graph database humming behind them

KGF 2023: Bikes To The Moon, Datastrophies, Abstract Art And A Knowledge Graph Forum To Embrace Them All

Read about this year’s Knowledge Graph Forum – a space where Ontotext and partners presented smart and linked ways to tame and thrive on complexity, rather than be drowned by it

Do Large Language Models Dream of Knowledge Graphs – Impressions from Day 2 At SEMANTiCS 2023

Read our report from Day 2 of SEMANTiCS 2023 to find out if ChatGPT is the killer app for the Semantic Web, how do we tame the genie of LLMs for Healthcare and more

Can LLMs Become Knowledgeable – Impressions from Day 1 At SEMANTiCS 2023

Read about the interplay between LLMs & KGs and how business and academia tackle them in our report from Day 1 at SEMANTiCS 2023

It’s Time We Give Each Other More Data Spaces: Impressions from the Pre-conference Day at SEMANTiCS 2023

Read about SEMANTiCS pre-conference day, which covered the topics of interoperability, ESG data, knowledge engineering, scholarly communication, and academia & industry collaboration.

GraphDB in Action: Navigating Knowledge About Living Spaces, Cyber-physical Environments and Skies 

Read about three inspiring GraphDB-powered use cases of connecting data in a meaningful way to enable smart buildings, interoperable design engineering and ontology-based air-traffic control

Your Knowledge Graph Journey In Three Simple Steps

A bird’s eye view on where to start in building a knowledge graph solution to help your business excel in a data-driven market

GraphDB in Action: Putting the Most Reliable RDF Database to Work for Better Human-machine Interaction

Read about the world of academia research projects that use GraphDB to meet the challenges of heterogeneous data across various domains

Knowledge Graphs for Retail – Connecting People, Products and Platforms

Read about how knowledge graphs can serve the retail industry’s growing need to connect, manage and utilize data efficiently, aligning it in a collaborative data ecosystem

Data Wants To Be Truly Sovereign: Designing Data Spaces with Linked Data Principles In Mind

Read about what data spaces are and how semantic technologies and Linked Data can make them a stronger and safer mechanism for commercial data exchange

GraphDB in Action: Powering State-of-the-Art Research

Read about how academia research projects use GraphDB to power innovative solutions to challenges in the fields of Accounting, Healthcare and Cultural Heritage

KGF22: Knowledge Graphs and The Not So Quiet Cognitive Revolution

Read about Ontotext’s KGF22 days dedicated to stories about knowledge graphs in the domains of Industry, Healthcare & Life Sciences and Financial Services

KGF22: Wittgenstein, Developers Empathy and Other Semantic Data Considerations

Read about our event report from Ontotext’s Knowledge Graph Forum 2022, highlighting expert insight on building knowledge graphs and designing enterprise-grade solutions with semantic technologies.

A Little SEMANTiCS Goes A Long Way

Take a sneak peek at some of the keynote speeches and tutorials throughout SEMANTiCS 2022

It Takes A Village To Raise An Enterprise Knowledge Graph

Read about the design processes behind crafting knowledge-graph enabled solutions and explore some of the stories of our partners.

Smart Buildings Are Built of Smart Data: Knowledge Graphs for Building Automation Systems

Read about how knowledge graphs offer a sustainable solution for harnessing and making sense of heterogeneous data in the building automation industry.

Metadata Moves: Knowledge Graph Technology for Logistics

Read about how the world of metadata humming behind the logistics and other supply chain processes can benefit from using knowledge graph technology.

Electrical Standards, Smart Grids and Your Air Conditioner

Read about how applying Linked Data principles and semantic technology to electricity data can make for a more efficient, reliable and sustainable electricity market.

The Semantic Web: 20 Years And a Handful of Enterprise Knowledge Graphs Later

Read about how the Semantic Web vision reincarnated in thousands of Linked Open Data datasets and millions of Schema.org tagged webpages. And how it enables knowledge graphs to smarten up enterprises data.

Metadata is Like Packaging: Seeing Beyond the Library Card Metaphor

Read about what metadata is, why it is important and how it can enhance the ways information flows across the enterprise.

From Fragmented Data to a Comprehensive Knowledge Graph: The Case for Building an R&D Repository

Read about how enterprise knowledge graphs can unlock meaning and thus create a smart future-proof living repository of scientific data and its relationships.

Texts Without Pages: Advancing Text Analytics with Content Enrichment

Read about how text analytics can be brought forward with content enrichment processes for better text authoring, delivery and navigation.

A Shield Built of Connected Data: Knowledge Graphs Meet Cybersecurity

Read about how a knowledge graph can help organizations stay vigilant of the increasing number of cyber threats, keeping malicious attacks at bay with the help of semantics.

Digital Twins: If It Sounds Like Cyberpunk, It’s Because It Is

Read about what digital twins are, what makes them attractive to companies and how digital twins relate to semantic technology and enable organizations to design, simulate and validate various scenarios virtually.

Eating the Knowledge Soup, Literally

Read about the fluid essence of knowledge and the capability of knowledge graphs to power an information-rich platform of diverse facts about anything, a broccoli soup included.

If Curiosity Cabinets Were Knowledge Graphs

Read about why and how knowledge graph technology can help build networks of interwoven digital objects in the world of cultural heritage.

On the Hunt for Patterns: from Hippocrates to Supercomputers

Read about the ExaMode project that will help medical professional use the power of supercomputers and knowledge graphs for more efficient patient care through data-driven diagnoses.

Crafting a Knowledge Graph: The Semantic Data Modeling Way

Read about how to build a knowledge graph the semantic data modeling way in 10 steps, provided by our knowledge graph technology experts.

A Graphful of Investment Opportunities

Read about the story of an algorithm that mines data to narrow down opportunities for investing.

Okay, You Got a Knowledge Graph Built with Semantic Technology… And Now What?

Read about how knowledge management can be made smarter using a knowledge graph built with semantic technology.

If Johnny Mnemonic Smuggled Linked Data

Read about how semantic technology and Linked Data can help enterprises benefit from smart data management and retrieval practices.

Data, Databases and Deeds: A SPARQL Query to the Rescue

Read about why and how SPARQL queries make for a better search in diverse datasets across an organization in an integrated way.

Semantic Technology and the Way We See the World

Read about how semantic technology can help you set the wheels for many processes related to еfficient data management and governance.

Telling Stories with an RDF Database

Read about the opportunities for authoring and publishing workflows opened by an RDF triplestore.

The Power of URI or Why Odysseus Called Himself Nobody

Read about URI and its power to enable the sharing and reuse of machine-readable data with minimum integration costs.

From Cultivating Nature to Cultivating Data: Semantic Technology and Viticulture

Learn how the potential that Big Data streams bring to grape and wine production can be harnessed with the right kind of technology.

The Knowledge Graph and the Enterprise

Read about the knowledge graph and about how many enterprises are already embracing the idea of benefiting from it.

It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got Semantics

Learn how you can turn data pieces into actionable knowledge and data-driven decisions with an RDF database.

The Bounties of Semantic Data Integration for the Enterprise

Learn about the potential semantic data integration carries for piecing massive amounts of data together.

Here’s a Graph, Go Figure! Coupling Text Analytics with a Knowledge Graph

Learn why and how a Knowledge Graph boosts significantly Text Analytics processes and practices and makes text work for us in a more meaningful way.

Cognitive Computing: Let’s Play an Awareness Game

Read about the new breed of computing is emerging before our eyes – cognitive computing and join us in our Awareness Game.

Machine Learning and Our (Insatiable) Penchant for Making Things Smarter

Read about how machines can be of great help with many tasks where fast and error-free computation over big amounts of data are required.

Staying In the Vanguard of Digital Transformation with Open Data

Learn about Open Data and its potential to be part of smart solutions to data problems and innovative products and services.

Whose Meaning? Which Ontology?

Read about how ontologies open up opportunities for a new class of tools to power information consumption and knowledge management.

Shiny Happy Data: A Praise for RDF

Learn how to choose the right solution for working with your data the conceptual framework of “happy connected people”.

Enterprise Metadata Matters: From Having Data to Acting Upon Them

Learn more about the importance of being metadata-driven today in our latest SlideShare presentation.

Data Daiquiri: The Power of Mixing Data

Learn how companies can tap into the power of the data coming their way by integrating the huge data flows with their proprietary data.

Migrating to GraphDB: Your Why and How in 20 slides

Learn about the steps you need to migrate your data to GraphDB to use it as a smart brain on top of your legacy systems.

Got meaning? Or Why an RDF Graph Database Is Good for Making Sense of Your Data

Read about how you can create systems capable of discovering relationships and detecting patterns within all kinds of data.

Brains Armored with Smart Data

Read our thoughts rising from questions such as “Will Giant Brains Rule the World?” and “Can a mechanical brain replace you?”

One Step Closer to Intertwingularity: Semantic Metadata

Learn about how semantic metadata allows us to add granularity to an object, interlink it to other objects and make it easy to search.

Exceptional User Experiences with Meaningful Content NOW

Content enrichment and semantic web technologies are key to efficient content management. Learn why and see these technologies in action.

Semantic Information Extraction: From Data Bits to Knowledge Bytes

Learn about semantic information extraction and how it pulls out meaningful data from textual sources, ready to be leveraged for insights, decisions and actions.

Weaving Data Into Texts: The Value of Semantic Annotation

Read about how semantic annotation links certain words to context and references that can be processed by an algorithm.

Exploring Linked Open Data with FactForge

Learn about FactForge and how you can turn the opportunities that data flows on the web can pour into our business into a real experience.

What is GraphDB and how can it help you run a smart data-driven business?

Learn about GraphDB in a simple and easy to understand way and see what Ontotext’s semantic graph database has to do with pasta making.

Linked Data for Libraries: Our New Librarians

Learn how semantic technologies can bring audiences back to libraries and make library archives and collections visible and accessible.

Working with Data Just Got Easier: Converting Tabular Data into RDF Within GraphDB

Read about OntoRefine – a new tool that allows you to do many ETL (extract, transform and load) tasks over tabular data.

GraphDB: Answers for Kids of All Ages

Read about how GraphDB can help you clean up messes of data (just like your room) – whether you are a kid or not.

The Knowledge Discovery Quest

Learn how by joining the dots, semantic search enhances the way we look for clues and compare correlations on our knowledge discovery quest.

Connectivity, Open Data and A Bag of Chips

Learn how LOD’s connectivity allows data to be shared seamlessly, used and reused freely. As simple as a bag of chips.

Data Integration: Joining the Data Pieces of Your Business Puzzle

Learn how to use information interconnectedness to integrate, interpret and ultimately make sense of data.

Cooking Up the Semantic Web

Read about the Semantic Web and what it takes to reach its potential and evolve from a Web of Documents to a Web of Data.

Semantic Search: The Paradigm Shift from Results to Relationships

Read about semantic search and how it takes information retrieval to the next level and puts information at our fingertips.

A Web of People and Machines: W3C Semantic Web Standards

Learn how and why Semantic Web Standards are to serve the Web of Data for better collaboration between people through computers.

Thinking Outside the Table

Learn how to manage highly connected data, working with complex queries and having readily available relationships, without the need to express them explicitly.

Our Networked Lives, Publishing and Semantic Technologies

Read about how semantic technology helps publishing handle data in an interconnected way, attaching machine-processable and readable meaning to them.

Why Graph Databases Make a Better Home for Interconnected Data Than the Relational Databases?

Read about how you can turn data into a resource, easily accessed and effectively used across the organization with a graph database.

Text, Data and the Roman Roads: Semantic Enrichment

Read about semantic enrichment and the unique opportunity it offers for interconnecting objects to facilitate knowledge discovery.

4 Things NOW Lets You Do With Content

Go beyond conventional publishing with Ontotext’s News On the Web and get the feel of how you can discover and consume content with semantic technology.