Digital Object Identifiers (DOI)
An Embarrassment of
By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
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The Internet is too rich. Even powerful and sophisticated search engines, such as Google, return a lot of trash, dead ends, and Error 404's in response to the most well-defined query, Boolean operators and all. Directories created by human editors - such as Yahoo! or the Open Directory Project - are often overwhelmed by the amount of material out there. Like the legendary blob, the Internet is clearly out of classificatory control. Some web sites - like Suite101 - have introduced the old and tried Dewey subject classification system successfully used in non-virtual libraries for more than a century. Books - both print and electronic - (actually, their publishers) get assigned an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) by national agencies. Periodical publications (magazines, newsletters, bulletins) sport an ISSN (International Serial Standard Number). National libraries dole out CIP's (Cataloguing in Publication numbers), which help lesser outfits to catalogue the book upon arrival. But the emergence of new book formats, independent publishing, and self publishing has strained this already creaking system to its limits. In short: the whole thing is fast developing into an awful mess.
Resolution is one solution.
Resolution is the linking of identifiers to content. An identifier can be a word, or a phrase. RealNames implemented this approach and its proprietary software is now incorporated in most browsers. The user types a word, brand name, phrase, or code, and gets re-directed to a web site with the appropriate content. The only snag: RealNames identifiers are for sale. Thus, its identifiers are not guaranteed to lead to the best, only, or relevant resource. Similar systems are available in many languages. Nexet, for example, provides such a resolution service in Hebrew.
The Association of American Publishers (APA) has an Enabling Technologies Committee. Fittingly, at the Frankfurt Book Fair of 1997, it announced the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) initiative. An International DOI Foundation (IDF) was set up and invited all publishers - American and non-American alike - to apply for a unique DOI prefix. DOI is actually a private case of a larger system of "handles" developed by the CNRI (Corporation for National Research Initiatives). Their "Handle Resolver" is a browser plug-in software, which re-directs their handles to URL's or other pieces of data, or content. Without the Resolver, typing in the handle simply directs the user to a few proxy servers, which "understand" the handle protocols.
The interesting (and new) feature of the system is its ability to resolve to MULTIPLE locations (URL's, or data, or content). The same identifier can resolve to a Universe of inter-related information (effectively, to a mini-library). The content thus resolved need not be limited to text. Multiple resolution works with audio, images, and even video.
The IDF's press release is worth some extensive quoting:
"Imagine you're the manager of an Internet company reading a story online in the 'Wall Street Journal' written by Stacey E. Bressler, a co-author of Communities of Commerce, and at the end of the story there is a link to purchase options for the book.
Now imagine you are an online retailer, a syndicator or a reporter for an online news service and you are reading a review in 'Publishers Weekly' about Communities of Commerce and you run across a link to related resources.
And imagine you are in Buenos Aires, and in an online publication you encounter a link to 'D-Lib Magazine', an electronic journal produced in Washington, D.C. which offers you locale-specific choices for downloading an article.
The above examples demonstrate how multiple resolution can present you with a list of links from within an electronic document or page. The links beneath the labels - URLs and email addresses - would all be stored in the DOI System, and multiple resolution means any or all of those links can be displayed for you to select from in one menu. Any combination of links to related resources can be included in these menus.
Capable of providing much richer experiences then single resolution to a URL, Multiple Resolution operates on the premise that content, not its location, is identified. In other words, where content and related resources reside is secondary information. Multiple Resolution enables content owners and distributors to identify their intellectual property with bound collections of related resources at a hyperlink's point of departure, instead of requiring a user to leave the page to go to a new location for further information.
A content owner controls and manages all the related resources in each of these menus and can determine which information is accessible to each business partner within the supply chain. When an administrator changes any facet of this information, the change is simultaneous on all internal networks and the Internet. A DOI is a permanent identifier, analogous to a telephone number for life, so tomorrow and years from now a user can locate the product and related resources wherever they may have been moved or archived to."
The IDF provides a limited, text-only, online demonstration. When sweeping with the cursor over a linked item, a pop-down menu of options is presented. These options are pre-defined and customized by the content creators and owners. In the first example above (book purchase options) the DOI resolves to retail outlets (categorized by book formats), information about the title and the author, digital rights management information (permissions), and more. The DOI server generates this information in "real time", "on the fly". But it is the author, or (more often) the publisher that choose the information, its modes of presentation, selections, and marketing and sales data. The ingenuity is in the fact that the DOI server's files and records can be updated, replaced, or deleted. It does not affect the resolution path - only the content resolved to.
Which brings us to e-publishing.
Go to "Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) - Embarrassment of Riches - Part II"
A Brief History of the Book
The Future of Electronic Publishing
The Future of the Book
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