[Taxacom] LSID versus names

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Wed Jun 20 12:54:59 CDT 2012

I think you missed my point.  UUIDs are stunningly gorgeous to the intended
audience: computers.  They're particularly powerful when you combine them
with a resolution service operating on http protocol.   We've simply got to
stop this nonsense that we should choose GUIDs that are pleasant for humans
to look at.  We've had this conversation before (several times). I've also
had the same conversation with Roger (See Dima's replies to Roger's blog).
That just leads to the sort of comments like Chris', suggesting that GUIDs
will replace scientific names.  That is no more likely to happen than
scientific names will be useful as unambiguous identifiers to cross-link
digital information.


We already have identifiers that are not "ugly" to people: they're called
scientific names, and they follow a convention that has been in use
literally for centuries.  We should stop using them (scientific names) for
human-human communication or computer-human communication only when the
benefits of using them cease to outweigh the costs of doing so.  But we are
being foolish to shape identifiers meant for computer-computer communication
in such a way that they are aesthetically pleasing to humans.


In any case, I wholeheartedly agree with your last sentence, except I would
modify the ending: ".tackle that, and people will probably never see the




From: Roderic Page [mailto:r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk] 
Sent: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 11:14 PM
Cc: Jim Croft; Chris Thompson; Neal Evenhuis; Frederick W. Schueler; Stephen
Thorpe; Richard Pyle
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] LSID versus names


Dear Rich,


You have about as much chance convincing anyone that UUIDs are beautiful as
I have of convincing taxonomists to not change bionomials when shifting
names across genera ;)


I understand the advantages of UUIDs, and I know you argue that in an ideal
world we'd not see identifiers. But there are reasons not to like UUIDs
(http://www.hyam.net/blog/archives/90 ), and the reality is we see (and use)
identifiers all the time. Indeed, a lot of the much-touted benefits of
identifiers (e.g., cut and paste identifier to get reference, see who is
mentioning your article on Twitter by searching for the DOI, retrieve a DNA
sequence from GenBank, etc.) depend on people using identifiers. We use URLs
all the time, for example. Indeed, being able to see identifiers is often
important for building trust (I believe I'm handing over my credit card
details to someone trustworthy because it says "apple.com" in the URL, for


A related issue is whether identifiers are "hackable", that is, whether I
can interpret what they mean and edit them to get something else. For
example, if I have an identifier for an article that include the volume, can
I shorten the identifier and get information on the volume? Obviously this
can be problematic, but clearly taxonomists like hackable identifiers,
otherwise they wouldn't embed meaning into names (e.g., if I shorten "Homo
sapiens" to "Homo" and search for that I'll find other things related to
"Homo sapiens") (oh the irony). UUIDs are not hackable, which could be
regarded as a strength, but in some respects this can be a disadvantage as
it thwarts discovery and debugging.


As much as you might wish that people didn't look at identifiers, they do.
If you wanted to design a less user-friendly identifier designed to alienate
reluctant users then you couldn't have done better than pick UUIDs ;)
Regardless of the technical reasons for choosing them, they've done you no
favours in encouraging adoption.


I suspect much of this would be moot if the identifiers were perceived as
adding significant value, and not merely large globs of indigestible text.
This is the real problem, tackle that, and people will probably see past the







On 20 Jun 2012, at 09:34, Richard Pyle wrote:

and some example are ugly e.g., those that use UUIDs, such as the

examples you gave earlier, and the ones issued by ZooBank

(note that you don't have to make such ugly LSIDs).

"Ugly"??  Seriously?  You're worried about "ugly"?!?  Ugly to whom?  To you?
A human?  C'mon Rod -- you can do better than "ugly"!  You're absolutely
right about LSIDs.  I'm astonished that you still cling to the "ugly"
argument against UUIDs!  The sooner we can get past this foolish notion that
GUIDs are supposed to be optimized for human eyeballs, the better.


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Roderic Page
Professor of Taxonomy
Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences
Graham Kerr Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

Email: r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
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