The URN:NBN is dead and resurrection is meaningless

Sigfrid Lundberg's Stuff 2010-02-23

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I'm one of those who try to base all decisions on facts. Politics belong to the strategic field, and in that field the only thing I can offer is advice.

As a scientist and a software developer I've repeatedly considered the problems related to addressing on the Internet. I've written at length about URNs and digital libraries and Cool URIs. I'm going to continue to do that, because there are people in the library communities who just fail to understand that the URN stuff is a complete waste of time and money on something which is to little benefit and that may, in my view, be potentially harmful. Most recently it is the PersID project [that was dead July 10 2021 when I checked all links on my site, and it wasn't on].

Please don't pull resources from scarce library budgets in support for an idea which died six or seven years ago!

Single points of failure

The success of Internet is due to the fact that there are very few single points of failure. The same is true for the Worldwide web and the protocols that support it. The URN:NBN systems require HTTP based resolution services. That introduces such single points of failures.

URN:NBN systems are lying

The HyperText Transfer Protocol provide means for servers to inform software clients that a resource has been moved. This is called redirection and comes in two shapes: Moved permanently and Moved temporarily. The redirects should be used for exactly what the protocol says. Anything else is abuse of the intention of the protocol.

Unfortunately redirects is the perhaps most abused part of the HTTP protocol, and URN:NBN resolvers and similar systems are the worst culprits. They are permanently sending temporary redirects. That is, they are lying.

It is always best to tell the truth

What makes a cool URI?
A cool URI is one which does not change.
What sorts of URI change?
URIs don't change: people change them.

wrote Tim Berners-Lee 1998. He knows what he's talking about, because he actually invented the Worldwide web.

The take-home message of his essay is that if you have things you care of, you should assign URIs to them that are such that you will be able to maintain for years to come.

If you change the URI, then you don't care enough. And you have definitely not put enough intellectual effort into the dissemination of your resources. To put it another way: You have not considered the fact that your URI structure is a part your application and essential to the reusability of your date. To invent a special infrastructure, such as URN:NBN for this is to hide away these basic facts.

The interactive semantic web requires cool URIs

Things have changed a lot since 1998. It was only Tim Berners-Lee and others in the working groups of and IETF that could forsee Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. You can recognize many of the pioneers from the fact that they usually claim that nothing has changed. And they're right, nothing technical has changed since 1998, other than that peoples understanding of what can be achieved using the web can do has gone from version 1.0 to 2.0 and is now on its way to version 3.0.

Those who argue that we should go for URN:NBN have not understood.

As a matter of fact, I'd say that they never understood the release version 0.9. I'm sorry.

In the web of data, the aspects of a resource that are worth persistent identification is in the hand of its users, since it is the users who do the linking.

Why on earth should we assign a URN:NBN to Romeo & Juliet, if the users want to quote the balcony scene?

Why on earth should you assign a URN:NBN to an article, when I want to address Figure 3?

User annotation need a persistent annotation anchor, and that could be a part of an image.

Yes, we need persistence. But please, not technology advised by people who never understood web 0.9


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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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