Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned... I have moved a document

Sigfrid Lundberg's Stuff 2009-08-15

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This comes to you as an afterthought. I killed other peoples' links when I last week moved a document. I've felt guilt for this for a week now.

Status 404 is a pain in the arse. You've found that link. Apparently it contained some vital information for you. And then it's gone... We've all seen this. And since the end of the last century there have been people working on it, many of them coming to from the library world where I belong as well. The Germans seem to be most ardent. Followed by the Finnish and us Swedes.

I full well understand people who try do something against URI rot. Mind you, I've spent six years of my life maintaining harvesting robots. However, I've hated URNs intensely since the end of the last century when I realized that people who hardly knew anything about HTTP, hypertext and markup commissioned technical solutions, such as URNs and URN resolvers as futile fixes to human and organizational problems.

Those who know me also know that I have very strong emotions about persistence. These emotions started long before I had read Tim Berners-Lee's brilliant paper Cool URIs don't change. Tim did get one thing wrong in that paper: URI's never ever change, people move (or remove) the documents.

Once you've formulated a URI, it will exist until the end of networked information as we know it (or until the end of the world, whichever happens first).

By the end of the nineties, the Nordic Metadata Project had commissioned a technical solution where we in the Nordic Web index should identify all pages with DCMI metadata and in particular those that where using encoding scheme URN for identifier.

As a matter of fact, I found a couple of thousands such <meta> tags searching my databases. The only snag was that they all appeared on two sites. Project Runeberg had a very neat collection with digitized books, each with a unique URN embedded in the cover page, and then isPartOf elements for each chapter.

Lars Aronsson, the main architect behind Project Runeberg, had made his homework. However, most of the DCMI identifiers with encoding scheme URN were found on the web site of the Swedish National Library. The only snag here was that all of them contained the same value.

I worked for a couple of weeks with this, but result was useless because of the incompetence of the very people who marketed these ideas in Sweden. For some years to come, I sat on many meetings listening to them talking about the status of URN:NBN in Sweden, and for each time I heard about it my anger increased.

(a) urn:nbn:de:gbv:7-isbn-90-6984-508-3-8

(b) URN:NBN Resolver für Deutschland und Schweiz

Figure 1. I added this July 13, 2021. Screenshots of (a) urn:nbn:de:gbv:7-isbn-90-6984-508-3-8 (b) Diese URN ist nicht auflösbar.

One document colleagues have wanted to discuss with me the last few years has the following URI:

It leads to Hans-Werner Hilse and Jochen Kothe, 2006. Implementing Persistent Identifiers, published by Consortium of European Research Libraries, London and European Commission on Preservation and Access. It is still available on the net (as of July 2021), but the URN:NBN is broken and cannot be resolved (See Figure 1.)

Sending a HTTP HEAD request to the URI above yields the following response:

	HEAD ...-8 --> 302 Found
	HEAD http://resolver ... 508-3 --> 307 Temporary Redirect
	HEAD http://webdoc.sub. ...3-8.pdf --> 200 OK
	Connection: close
	Date: Sat, 15 Aug 2009 11:16:15 GMT
	Accept-Ranges: bytes
	ETag: "7499f564-92b7f-f0dca280"
	Server: Apache
	Content-Length: 600959
	Content-Type: application/pdf
	Last-Modified: Tue, 12 Dec 2006 15:28:58 GMT
	Client-Date: Sat, 15 Aug 2009 11:16:01 GMT
	Client-Response-Num: 1

Obviously people in Germany love maintaining resolution services. First there is this global one at DNB, Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, and then the local one at Göttingen.

It does not help them very much, though. I've been through all links pointing to this booklet. Only four out of fifteen points to the canonical source. To put this another way: Whenever Gesellschaft für wissenschaftliche Datenverarbeitung moves their documents, three quarter of the links pointing to them are gone.

I have tried for hours to find any document in Google Scholar with a reference pointing to the Finnish URN:NBN resolver. If there are any, I ensure you that they never appear in papers with any impact.

The money spent on maintaining the resolvers doesn't help. A complete waste of both time and Euros if you ask me. The PI is a dead concept, promoted by organizations who fail to learn from experience. It is completely incompatible with modern thinking on web technologies, and in particular semantic web and annotation and navigation of complex digital resources. Sorry, I felt the anger boiling up inside me again.

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned... I have moved a document.


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My name is Sigfrid Lundberg. The stuff I publish here may, or may not, be of interest for anyone else.

On this site there is material on photography, music, literature and other stuff I enjoy in life. However, most of it is related to my profession as an Internet programmer and software developer within the area of digital libraries. I have been that at the Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen (Denmark) and, before that, Lund university library (Sweden).

The content here does not reflect the views of my employers. They are now all past employers, since I retired 1 May 2023.

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