Problems with a “flat” namespace

Via digg, “Dell sues web designer because he has the same name.“:

“Paul Dell builds web sites. So, he has had a URL stating as much: Somehow, Dell, the giant computer vendor thinks that people would be confused by that is and is suing for 100,000 Euros in damages.”

Back in the day, I tried to help Olympic Boat Centers register a domain for a company website. Try as we might, the registration would be rejected. the International Olympic Committee had a lock on any domain with the string “olympic” and, as far as I could tell, they were highly prejudicial. The sense of “olympic boat” was completely different depending on the context, and one context was connected to the Olympics. This one meaning was given exclusive meaning because of the relationship and agreement between the IOC and InterNIC/NetSol. Olympic Boat Centers finally gave up trying to argue their case, though they tried everything they could. They finally settled for

This is the semantic danger of having a flat namespace, where contexts overlap. Another example is the way that disambiguation occurs for wikipedia terms. The relationship between the meaning and the sign is linear and not characterized. Other namespaces that are flat occur in folksonomic tags.

One technique is to offer a label for the relationships. This is also a technique for concept mapping that I recommend. Being able to explain the connection between elements, nodes, terms, etc … is one way to provide texture to the tags. Programmatically, I see this existence of this texture as offering quicker and easier ways to discern the deep texture of a taxonomy that would otherwise be hidden in context.

Update: I wrote an update here, but moved it to a new post.