Sebastian Heath has an interesting discussion about museum identifiers. This is part of his ongoing project to document museum and online archaeological-collections identification schemes. Sebastian referenced a discussion circulated by Martin Doerr of the Center for Cultural Informatics on Crete (and of CIDOC fame) about aligning Web identifiers in museums toward some common design standards.

For instance, the Rosetta Stone has the PRN number: YCA62958, hence the “official” URI of the Rosetta stone is: http://collection.britishmuseum.org/object/YCA62958 . This URI should never become direct address of a document.

I absolutely agree with Sebastian on his points about getting human readable pages and avoiding divisions between the semantic and the “plain web” (contra the second sentence in the quote above).

Beyond those architecture issues however, I think the politics of naming and identifying cultural heritage will be a very interesting problem for semantic web approaches. Custody over the Rosetta Stone is in some dispute. The Elgin marbles are even more contested. I’m sure that some people in Greece would have a problem with “britishmuseum.org” in the internationally recognized / official / canonical¬† URI(s) for the Elgin marbles. In other words, naming and identifying things can be somewhat political and that will work against attempts to harmonize. I’m sure there will always be a need for third-parties to cross-reference identifiers.

I suspect issues like this will pose big problems to attempts to rationalize identifiers. That’s part of the reason why some digital library folks favor opaque identifiers. Of course, this digital library perspective is not universally shared.

It will be interesting to see how this discussion unfolds in cultural heritage applications.

Updated (Nov. 2):

  1. Also I should note that the “Museums and the machine-processable web wiki” (a fantastic resource and community hub!!) has some excellent discussion of these issues.
  2. Sebastian continued the discussion in this post.