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February 03, 2010

More famous than Simon Cowell

I wrote a blog post on my other, Blipfoto, blog this morning, More famous than Simon Cowell, looking at some of the issues around persistent identifiers from the perspective of a non-technical audience. (You'll have to read the post to understand the title).

I used the identifier painted on the side of a railway bridge just outside Bath as my starting point.

It's certainly not an earth-shattering post, but it was quite interesting (for me) to approach things from a slightly different perspective:

What makes the bridge identifier persistent? It's essentially a social construct. It's not a technical thing (primarily). It's not the paint the number is written in, or the bricks of the bridge itself, or the computer system at head office that maps the number to a map reference. These things help... but it's mainly people that make it persistent.

I wrote the piece because the JISC have organised a meeting, taking place in London today, to consider their future requirements around persistent identifiers. For various reasons I was not able to attend - a situation that I'm pretty ambivalent about to be honest - I've sat thru a lot of identifier meetings in the past :-).

Regular readers will know that I've blown hot and cold (well, mainly cold!) about the DOI - an identifier that I'm sure will feature heavily in today's meeting. Just to be clear... I am not against what the DOI is trying to achieve, nor am I in any way negative about the kinds of services, particularly CrossRef, that have been able to grow up around it. Indeed, while I was at UKOLN I committed us to joining CrossRef and thus assigning DOIs to all UKOLN publications. (I have no idea if they are still members).  I also recognise that the DOI is not going to go away any time soon.

I am very critical of some of the technical decisions that the DOI people have made - particularly their decision to encourage multiple ways of encoding the DOI as a URI and the fact that the primary way (the 'doi' URI scheme) did not use an 'http' URI. Whilst persistence is largely a social issue rather than a technological one, I do think that badly used technology can get in the way of both persistence and utility. I also firmly believe in the statement that I have made several times previously... that "the only good long term identifier is a good short term identifier".  The DOI, in both its 'doi' URI and plain-old string of characters forms, is not a good short term identifier.

My advice to the JISC? Start from the principles of Linked Data, which very clearly state that 'http' URIs should be used. Doing so sidesteps many of the cyclic discussions that otherwise occur around the benefits of URNs and other URI schemes and allows people to focus on the question of, "how do we make http URIs work as well and as persistently as possible?" rather than always starting from, "http URIs are broken, what should we build instead?".


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interesting the debate between doi & http URIs. i tend to agree with you (and http appears to be the way we're going at futureArch - at least until someone tells me otherwise!) but I would have to go read around some more to say i completely agree!

liked the blipfoto words too.

btw, who is simon cowell? ;-)

Hi Andy! After all these years, I believe that the real discussion should not be about DOIs vs. HTTP URIs, but rather about the proper behavior of DOI-based URIs.

The reality is that "99%" of DOIs are resolved via the HTTP proxies; DOI-based URIs are for real. The problem we should be talking about is that the HTTP proxies, esp. dx.doi.org and hdl.handle.net, do not deal with Accept: requests in headers in ways that are now essential for the Web of Data to work; today, DOI-based URIs cannot properly function as "entity URIs" and this is a problem moving forward.

I believe it is possible to fix this and actually make DOI-based URIs a very useful contributor to the Linked Data infrastructure. I've suggested one possible solution in my post, "DOIs, URIs and Cool Resolution" http://bit.ly/a7S5qD

I'm interested in your thoughts!

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