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Generic Identifiers aka Web Scale Identifiers

by Nick Gall  |  December 8, 2008  |  2 Comments

The most important aspect of WOA is application neutral interfaces (or as some prefer application generic interfaces). Since interfaces are constituted by their IFaPs (Identifiers, Formats, and Protocols), this means that all three aspects must be made "as generic as possible, but not too generic" (playing off Einstein’s quote regarding simplicity).

We all know about generic interface operations, eg HTTP’s GET, PUT, POST, DELETE, et al. And we are beginning to see more examples of generic formats (or generic schemas if you prefer). For example, ATOM and derivatives like GData.

But its harder to find compelling examples of generic identifiers that are web-oriented, ie, defined as URLs. Well, I just found at great example at the BBC!

See slides 35 and on.

The basic idea is that MusicBrainz uses a GUID-based set of identifiers to uniquely identify artists, albums, and songs, like this URL for Led Zeppelin. So instead of inventing YAUN (Yet Another URL Namespace), BBC wisely decided to reuse MusicBrainz — as have others (

While I’m not sure I like the machine-generated, non-human friendly GUID approach, I do love the idea of id sharing across organizations. Such sharing is the essence of the network effect.

For more information see Web Scale Identifiers, Automatically Linking Artists, Permanent Web IDs, It’s All About the URL, and BBC/Music/Brainz. The BBC definitely gets WOA and network effects.

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Category: woa  

Nicholas Gall
VP Distinguished Analyst
14 years at Gartner
35 years IT industry

Nick Gall is a vice president in Gartner Research. As a founding member of Gartner’s Enterprise Planning and Architecture Strategies, Mr. Gall advises clients on enterprise strategies for interoperability, innovation and execution. Mr. Gall is a leading authority on middleware… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Generic Identifiers aka Web Scale Identifiers

  1. Tom Scott says:

    I’m glad you approve of the approach – and thanks for the links.

    In terms of the non-human friendly GUIDs – I agree that it is better if the URLs are human friendly but what is more important is that they are persistent so I do have sympathy with MusicBrainz (although they could be shorter!)

  2. Stu Charlton says:

    One reason why I think Semantic Web technologies like OWL and RDF are two important next steps to grow in mainstream adoption. Persistent URIs are fairly to interpret with constructs such as owl:sameAs.

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