Thursday, October 25, 2007

Buying & Selling DOIs...and the same for specimens

A previous post of mine described the business model for digital object identifiers in albeit simplistic terms. But, perhaps I should back up a second. Just what the heck is a DOI and why should the average systematist care? [Later in this post, I'll describe an interesting business model for biodiversity informatics]

Rod Page recently wrote a post in iPhylo that does a great job of selling the concept. Permit me to summarize and to add my own bits:

  1. DOIs are strings of numbers & letters that uniquely identify something in the digital realm. In the case of published works, they uniquely identify that work.
  2. DOIs are resolvable and can be made actionable. i.e. you can put in front of a DOI and, through the magic of HTTP, you get redirected to the publisher's offering or the PDF or HTML version of the paper
  3. DOIs have metadata. If you have for example a citation to a reference, you can obtain the DOI. Conversely, if you have a DOI, you can get the metadata
  4. DOIs are a business model. Persistent URLs (championed by many) are not a business model because there is no transfer of funds & confidences

Systematists have lamented that their works on delineating & describing species don't get cited in the primary literature. If they published in journals that stamped DOIs on their works or if they participated in helping journals get DOIs for back-issues or future publications, then outfits like the Biodiversity Heritage Library would have an easier time mapping taxon names to published works. For example, searching not for a publication but a taxon name in Biodiversity Heritage Library (protoype HERE) would not only provide a list of works in BHL that used the name somewhere in its text, it could provide a forward-linking gadget from CrossRef. The end user would have an opportunity to do his or her own cognitive searching:

There is nothing stopping an outfit like the Biodiversity Heritage Library from using Handles or some other globally unique identifer. But, doing so cuts off the possibility of injecting old works back into contemporary use because they will not be embedded into a widely used cross-linking framework.

MOIs for Sale

The Global Biodiversity Information Facility and The Encyclopedia of Life must also be active participants in the adoption of globally unique identifiers. But again, there must be a business model. So, here's a business model in relation to museum specimens:
  1. A registry sells a "MOI" - Museum Object Identifier (my creation of course) at 1 cent per labelled specimen.
  2. The price will go up to 2 cents a specimen after 2020, the usual year given for various National Biodiversity Strategies. Translation: get your act together because it'll cost more later.
  3. All MOIs must have DarwinCore metadata
  4. The registry sets up a resolver identical in functionality to DOIs

Now, before all the curators out there scream bloody murder, let's stop and think about this and put a creative, financial spin on the possibilities. Craig Newmark, the founder of the ever popular Craig's List, was recently interviewed on Stephen Colbert's Colbert Report where he mentioned Donor's Choose (see interview). If you're not familiar with that new service, here's the slogan: "Teachers ask. You choose. Students learn." is a simple way to provide students in need with resources that our public schools often lack. At this not-for-profit web site, teachers submit project proposals for materials or experiences their students need to learn. These ideas become classroom reality when concerned individuals, whom we call Citizen Philanthropists, choose projects to fund.

There's a lot of interest in The Encyclopedia of Life and the Biodiversity Heritage Library now. Let's set-up a global "Donor's Choose" clone called something like "Biodiversity Knowledge Fund" (though that's not catchy enough) to be locally administered by daughter organizations to EOL and the BHL in countries throughout the world. Funds then are transferred to institutions of the donor's choosing. Museums then accept the funds donated to them and turn around and buy "MOIs". What would prevent a museum from taking the money specifically donated to them and spending it on things other than MOIs? Nothing. But, their specimens then aren't indexed. Are you a philanthropist or have 20 dollars (or francs, rubles, pounds, pesos, dinar, lira, etc.) you'd like to donate? Want to fund biodiversity but don't know how? Here's an answer. But is such a "Biodiversity Knowledge Fund" sustainable? No, but it's a start.

1 comment:

Norman Paskin said...

These were two excellent postings on this topic.

1. For background to readers new to this, there is a recent article on the DOI system for the (forthcoming) third edition of the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences (based on the draft of the forthcoming ISO DOI standard) – at (link from )

2. On Business models. You are exactly right to pinpoint the business model issues (the “social infrastructure”) as far more important than the technology. I was very interested in your “MOI” proposal, and the figure you posit of 1 cent per MOI. The DOI experience may be helpful. The reason for assigning a DOI name is to participate in a service that uses DOI among other components. As you note, an example is the Crossref service, but other DOI Registration Agencies will have different services and cost models. If e.g. a taxonomy community were to consider the use of DOI system, then register (say) 8 million objects, the current levy by IDF to an RA for that number (but open to discussion) would be $0.005 per DOI registered. The costs the IDF levy to agencies are a mix of fixed and variable costs, the variable currently ranging from $0.04 to $0.005 per DOI, but entirely flexible: bulk discounts are not only possible but actively encouraged; we have implemented them, and recently revised the discount schedule and will do so again; IDF is a not-for-profit activity; we welcome open discussion and are amenable to any suggestions. Naturally, to this “wholesale” cost would need to be added the costs of running the particular service someone wanted to develop for this purpose, which would depend on the sophistication of the service.

3. In the International DOI Foundation we have some interesting DOI applications under development relating to science data (the TIB registration agency) and biological taxonomy (a current planned development by one of our members) that may also be of interest.

4. Declaration of my interest: I was the founding Director of the International DOI Foundation and now act as the managing agent for the IDF, and as a consultant for the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (who provide the underlying Handle technology), as well as being involved in several identifier and metadata activities.

Norman Paskin
Oxford UK