One protocol to rule them all?

May 15, 2008 00:00 · 559 words · 3 minute read

Data seems to be the hot topic right now. It’s all about how we store it, share it, and make it play nice with other data. There is an enthusiasm for openness and a move towards standardisation of data and the ways we share it, but there’s a also a worrying trend - competing standards and protocols.

Ross Singer at Panlibus discusses a draft recommendation from the Digital Library Federation ILS and Discovery System Task Force and notes that while it’s certainly a welcome move, that -

The problem here is that they generally give multiple options for achieving the goal of any given method. So this means that any ILS vendor can choose from a variety of protocols for implementing the spec and that a different vendor can choose alternate standards for the exact same functionality.

Singer goes on to describe scenarios in which this causes all sorts of problems - for example, vendors choose differing open standards and systems still can’t communicate.

Something similar looks to be happening in data exchange, with Google, Facebook and MySpace all announcing last week that they have their own ways of sharing profile data. There are two key concepts in play - data portability, and data availability. In the first, instance, the goal of data portability is user control and options over how you use your data. In the second, companies are entering agreements with eachother and I don’t see this giving the user the level of control many really want. It’s not a huge leap further than allowing, say, Facebook to access your Gmail contacts. You still have no way to export that data for yourself - it is handled company-to-company. Data portability is definitely my preference.

As we look to the future of the ILS, which may include data sharing and embedding on other services (with formats like RDF) and other semantic developments, it’s interesting to see how we face many similar issues in different domains at the same time. On the reason why Data Portability has taken off this year, Daniela Barbosa who has been involved with the project from inception says -

Call it timing, call it good marketing, call it luck- call it what you wish- i like to say it has to do with a need…a need by users, vendors and technologists to have one forum to discuss and act on the various issues and opportunities around user data and the usage of that data (the ‘Graph’).

I will be interested to see if the wider social networking world and libraries will turn to other forms of networking and identity down the line. Laura J. Smart wrote about Thompson’s ResearchID platform, which for want of a better term you could describe as an identity service for researchers. You can post a profile of yourself, link to your papers, and in theory meet other people working in the same field as you. Other companies have similar services, like CSA’s Scholar Universe. It would be really great if these services, like Facebook and mySpace, were a part of the data/identity portability movement.

So it seems that we’re all moving in the same direction at the moment, and though there may never be just one protocol or standard to rule all of our identities, hopefully they will at least talk to eachother.

Originally published on the blog

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