First, a quick disclaimer; this is based on my personal experiences and in no way reflects the opinions of anyone else or any other organisation than Gaia Resources.
Life Science IDentifiers, which are a type of unique identifier, have been around for a while. I’m not professing to know them particularly well, but I understand the need for the basic service they provide: uniquely identifying a “thing”, and allowing you to find out more about it. Let’s leave it at that simple definition for now – if you want to know more about them, there are better places to go than here!
People who are smarter than I have explained the problems with LSIDs well (such as Roger Hyam and Rod Page). It seems that there is a recurring argument about if these should be used, or if a different technology should be employed. I posted a short comment in my last blog post that the time for this argument is past, and I still stick by that.
I have had the wonderful responsibility of representing the Western Australian Museum at the Faunal Collections Informatics Group (FCIG) meetings, one of which is coming up next week in Launceston (so there’s another couple of airports in my near future). This group is where a number of the bioinformatics people from institutions around Australia who manage fauna collections (e.g. Museums) get together to work together towards solving some of the challenges we all face. LSIDs are one of those challenges.
I think, as a social and technical community, FCIG has come up with a good, solid social solution for implementing LSIDs. One of the products of the FCIG group has been the Online Zoological Collections of Australian Museums (OZCAM), which while looking a bit outdated now, has been a great focal point. Some of the people that put OZCAM together may no longer be at FCIG meetings, but the legacy that they have left is very valuable. The primary value I personally see in OZCAM is that it has become a central point to access the collections across the fauna collections of Australia – and that gives us an opportunity to at least try to play smart with LSIDs.
The technical requirements of getting data to OZCAM has been hard enough for the contributing organizations, and FCIG members have worked hard as a community to overcome those (and I’m proud that Gaia Resources has been able to help with tools such as HermesLite). So now FCIG members have some options to get data from their institutions to OZCAM, and this data is now arriving with LSIDs in them – but how do they get resolved? There’s not much of a chance that all of the member institutions can get LSIDs to resolve (which is the tricky part, not just in the first instance, but consistently over time).
So the FCIG members at the TDWG conference in Fremantle last year had a bit of a brainstorming session (with appropriate levels of caffeine). Out of that, we thought FCIG should be able to leverage OZCAM to help with LSIDs. So the plan was hatched to use the OZCAM domain to resolve the LSIDs for all FCIG member institutions by using the OZCAM domain in all of the member LSIDs. It seems to makes sense – the institutions can pool their minimal resources, and you can still identify each institution with other components of the LSIDs. Well, it seems to be a sensible solution, but I’m sure there’s problems in there that haven’t been spotted yet.
One of the issues that FCIG members still face is the lack of resources to accomplish things such as getting the LSID resolvers up and running. It’s a consistent issue facing FCIG member institutions – this lack of resources means that much of the collections in these institutions around Australia is not captured digitally.
LSIDs are as much a social issue as they are a technical issue. In this example, though, it’s pretty clear to me that FCIG has managed to solve the social issues, and once the resources can be found, the technical issues should fall by the wayside too.
Anyway, I’m really looking forward to having another good ol’ chinwag with the FCIG crew in Tasmania next week – right before I race to Brisbane with Mel and Akeal to meet up with the Zonae Cogito developers at University of Queensland, and chalk up another capital city for the year.
Folllow up edit: Check out Roger Hyam’s zen take on GUID persistance: http://www.hyam.net/blog/archives/346
If you have comments on this, feel free to email me.