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January 09, 2007

When two identifiers for the price of one is not a good deal

I came across a December posting about CrossRef and DOIs on the DigitalKoans blog the other day.  The posting was primarily about the then newly announced CrossRef DOI Finding Tool, but the 'http' URI pedant in me I couldn't help but notice something else.

Look at the example search results scattered throughout the posting.  In every case, each DOI is displayed twice, firstly using the 'doi:' form of URI, then using the 'http:' form.

What is that all about?  Why oh why have we lumbered ourselves with a system that forces us to repeat the preferred form of an identifier in a form that is actually useful?  Why don't we just use the useful form, full stop!?

There is nothing, not one single thing, that is technically weaker or less persistent about using http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/00907320510611357 as an identifier rather than doi:10.1108/00907320510611357.  Quite the opposite in fact.  The 'http:' form is much more likely to persist, since it is so firmly embedded into the fabric of everything we do these days. 
Yet for some reason we seem intent on promoting the 'doi:' form, even though it is next to useless in the Web environment.  As a result, all implementors of DOI-aware software have to hard-code knowledge into their applications to treat the two forms as equivalent.

Note, this is not a criticism of the DOI per se... just a continued expression of frustration at people's insistence on ignoring the 'http' URI in favour of creating their own completely unnecessary alternatives.

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Comments

As an HTTP pedant too, what I find frustrating about the "doi:" form is that it borrows from URI syntax without actually being a registered scheme.

I don't think the DOI would be technically improved by being registered as a URN, btw, I think its unnecessarily confusing.

The only argument I've seen for preferring the "doi:" form is that it prints (slightly) better.

I gather than Tim Berners-Lee suggested at a recent CrossRef meeting that they'd has been as well served by simply standardising URLs of the form:

http://crossref.org/10.1108/00907320510611357

Not sure it was too well received, but personally I like it :)

+1. DOIs would gain a lot more traction in the wider world if they were a no-brainer to use for garden-variety linking purposes (such as in blogs!).

Thanks for the posting. There's something comforting about identifiers that resolve in a familiar way :-)

I think you should express it as a criticism of DOIs.

It is worth asking why supporters of the DOI would not like to see usage in the form http://crossref.org/10.1108/00907320510611357

Usage of that form satisfies the major objectives of the DOI - it creates a persistent URL that can be interpreted at access time.

What it does not do, of course, is establish a system whereby *all* references are interpreted at access time.

The first is a mechanism for convenience. The second is a mechanism for control.

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