Identifier Persistence: Fundamentals

A friend and former colleague asked if I would comment on a chapter in her upcoming book on digital rights management and I agreed. The chapter is about identification and authenticity of web resources. Throughout my review of the chapter, I kept coming back to a couple of very basic notions that underlie any effort to provide persistent identifiers for web resources. These notions are, to my mind, central to identifier persistence, and any other concerns rely upon this foundation:

  1. Identifier persistence requires an organizational commitment. Persistence cannot be ensured by a few renegades in the skunk-works, nor can it be mandated from on high without the support of those who manage the identifiers or produce web resources. All individuals involved in the life-cycle of web resources must be committed to persistence in perpetuity if true persistence of identifiers is to be achieved.
  2. No technology, no standard, no identifier scheme, no information architecture will get you persistence. Whether you choose native URIs, Handles, DOIs, PURLs, ARKs, UUIDs, or XRIs, you will never achieve identifier persistence without active management of your identifiers and web resources. This requires the aforementioned organizational commitment since such management cannot occur without sufficient resources. Management of web resources and identifiers requires time and due diligence and those don’t come for free.

And, at the risk of being reductive, that’s about it. Once you’ve got an organizational commitment and a person or team to manage your identifiers and web resources, the rest of the decisions are secondary. If you like semantically meaningful URLs that redirect, choose Handles; if you prefer opaque identifiers, go with ARKs; if you don’t want to run your own software, consider PURLs. At that point, it really doesn’t matter which scheme you choose, as long as its characteristics match your organization’s values. You’ve already done the heavy lifting; rest easy.