Tim Berners-Lee’s Linked Data rules call explicitly for the use of HTTP URIs in naming resources. Although good at creating various schemes of identifiers (such as the JACS codes used to identify courses), the Higher Education sector appears less good at making those identifiers available for effective use over the web.
By exposing existing schemes of identification for institutions, subjects, courses, resources, people and more, myriad opportunities are created for identifying related content, decreasing ambiguity, reducing duplication of effort, and providing lightweight hooks to begin combining data from otherwise incompatible systems.
Scope is created for applications that span subjects or other organisational groupings, as well as those within a single institution that might usefully draw upon authoritative information from further afield.
Recommendation 1: review Cabinet Office guidance on the creation of URIs for the UK public sector and W3C guidelines on ‘Cool URIs.’ Draft conformant recommendations for the community.
There are a number of widely used identification schemes that are currently less accessible than is required if they are to underpin the next generation of services. Common identifiers have, for example, been made ‘available’ in the form of PDF downloads or searchable via a human-readable query form on a website. Ad hoc community efforts such as the Talis-supported Data Incubator and vocab.org provide infrastructure that could be used in converting these core resources to more accessible forms. An earlier version of the JACS codes used to describe undergraduate courses is available via DataIncubator, for example, and might usefully be built upon.
Recommendation 2: engage the community in identifying a core set of widely used identifiers (probably including existing JACS codes, institutional identifiers, etc) and facilitate or encourage creation of new HTTP URIs in line with the guidance in Recommendation 1. Where necessary, clarify licensing ambiguities to ensure that core identifiers are freely available for exploitation by academic institutions and those building applications on their behalf.
As well as identifying institutions, subjects, topics and resources, there is value in unambiguously identifying individuals within universities. The JISC-funded Names Project is exploring the requirements for a service to reliably and uniquely identify individuals and institutions named in the scholarly literature and elsewhere. The project is responding to a requirement that is also being explored at the institutional level through projects such as Oxford’s BRII. Web specifications such as FOAF should be of relevance here, and there are opportunities to explore facilitating infrastructure to allow individuals to identify themselves, and to link their various professional personas online. By identifying and meeting a clear need, the resulting infrastructure is more likely to be used and kept accurate by its beneficiaries. FOAF Builder from UK-based Garlik illustrates one way in which FOAF might be used to underpin lightweight tools that enable individuals to describe and maintain their own identities, and there may be scope for a similar solution within Higher Education.
From a policy perspective, it makes sense to unambiguously identify and link core groups such as research-active academics, and projects such as RKBExplorer have already illustrated some of the advantages of doing so. Whilst such a model may have wider utility, there are a number of open questions concerning purpose, reach and scope. What (and whom) are these identifiers for? Should (and could) they incorporate mappings to existing personas for individuals, for example on social networking sites? Is there a logical relationship with existing institutional solutions such as staff web pages, directories of expertise, contact lists, etc? What does an individual want to expose about themselves, when and where, and how do the requirements of the individual intersect those of their employer? Should an individual carry their identifier from one role or employer to another?
Recommendation 3: assess existing infrastructure that members of the community may use in hosting personal profiles, linked to institutional, professional and social network identities as appropriate. Quantify community requirements and identify gaps in provis