Every Friday I will reach into my archive and re-post an article. The following was originally posted on October 18, 2007.
Identifying My Package
As publishers we remain committed to defining for our readers and users the ‘package’. At the Frankfurt supply chain meeting last week as I listened to another “history of the ISBN” and other bedtime stories I was stuck by our insistence as publishers to define for our customers just how they should consume our content. This was manifested in our approach to identifiers for segments of content. I include myself in this criticism as a proponent of ISBN, DOI, ISTC and other alphabet defying groupings over the past 10 years. Three or more years ago, I think we were on the right track but in today’s user defined world the consumer is telling us what parts they want to consume and we will need to come up with easy to use flexible solutions that can identify the content and use.
On the Exact Editions site a user can select, by highlighting, a piece of text they want to use from any number of the journals and magazines hosted by EE. (The tool is named The Clipper). It is a fun and useful tool but in its implementation it doesn’t restrict the user in any way (other than a limitation on the amount of content). If a similar solution were implemented in a research context (within Refworks for example) I would like to see a persistent identifier created on the spot who’s syntax could be partially defined by the user. This is a perfect implementation for a DOI (one of the few perhaps) that enables the user to select a segment of the content they want, makes it persistent, creates a record for the publisher and enables any necessary reporting to take place.
It would seem to me that formatting a programmatic standard syntax to represent paragraphs, chapters, images etc. is a backwards approach simply because we will never fully anticipate how our users will use the content. We also continue to use the printed page as a construct which is fast diminishing in the online context and further undercuts the current standards approach. Attempts to build out a standard by unilaterally assigning executable identifiers to works (books) will be a waste of time and I simply don’t see the benefit of this approach; moreover, I don’t see anyone paying for it. It is not even clear publishers would welcome this approach.
Several implementations of technology that places at the point of need an easy to use script has proven that users want and are willing to purchase or gain approval for the use of content. CCC and O’Reilly are two differing examples of this concept. In the same manner, enabling an easy to use [citation] solution that provides a user with a simple pop-up window tied to the content they are interested in is a far more flexible and appropriate solution to identifying content. Avoid proscriptions: Let the user decide. (More)