[tdwg-tag] Blog: UUIDs may be Dangerous

Roderic Page r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Fri Nov 21 15:26:07 CET 2008

Well, this is all rather depressing -- we still haven't got the  
identifier problem sorted.

> I worry however that, even if we deprecate URLs like http://www.my.org/entomology/tomcat/display.jsp?catno=12345 
>  in favour of something more like http://my.org/stable-id/entomologycollection/12345 
> , we are left with the following problems:
> 1. my.org still needs to step up to the long-term responsibility to  
> handle URL rewriting for these ids.

I doubt the majority of data sources are up to this, or anything like  
it. But this is easier than implementing LSIDs (by  along shot).

> 2. my.org still needs to return data in a standard agreed form (e.g.  
> RDF or OWL) when requested from these URLs.

Again, they barely manage to serve existing standards (such as Darwin  
Core) without messing up parts of it. Current RDF standards have yet  
to demonstrate any practical utility (I'm not saying that they aren't  
useful, just they haven't shown this yet).

> 3. Most important of all, our domain has a long history and  
> information on specimens has value perhaps for centuries - why would  
> we adopt a syntax for persistent long-term identifiers which is so  
> strongly tied to the web and the web technologies of the very early  
> 21st century?

Yes, but LSIDs use the DNS both as a means to help ensure uniqueness,  
and for resolution.

If we are genuinely concerned about longevity then why not look  
closely at systems explicitly designed to be independent of the web,  
such as Handles (and therefore, DOIs), and/or ARK? I find it  
interesting that this is the route taken by organisations that have a  
very real stake in the future (i.e., publishers). I don't get the  
sense that our field takes this particularly seriously (if we did we  
won't be in the current mess). Note also that the most successful  
identifiers in our field (GenBank accession numbers, and PubMed  
identifiers) are widely shared, reused, and have no web technologies  
embedded in them.

My sense is that if we continue to think in terms of widely  
distributed, independent data providers, with little centralisation,  
then URLs are the only feasible identifier (it's the only easy one to  
set up). We then have to live with fragility.

Or, somebody steps up and provides centralised resolution of unique  
identifiers, we get a workable system (a la CrossRef), and we start to  
make some progress.

It beggars belief that we are still stuck on this issue.



> Donald
> Donald Hobern, Director, Atlas of Living Australia
> CSIRO Entomology, GPO Box 1700, Canberra, ACT 2601
> Phone: (02) 62464352 Mobile: 0437990208
> Email: Donald.Hobern at csiro.au
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Roderic Page
Professor of Taxonomy
Graham Kerr Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

Email: r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
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