A new and powerful tool is headed our way. I believe it has the potential to change the way we interact with researchers, contributors, and authors in general.

I have already reported on the Contributor ID meeting in Boston in mid-May. One of the main reasons for the timing of that meeting was the ORCID Outreach meeting held at the Microsoft office next to MIT in Cambridge. The aim of ORCID is to “solve the name ambiguity problem in scholarly communications by creating a registry of persistent unique identifiers for individual researchers and an open and transparent linking mechanism between ORCID, other ID schemes, and research objects such as publications, grants, and patents.”

The early thought, as I understood it, was to have a system of Identifiers to capture the author and affiliations that could be resolved, so that poeple could look for a unified record and find the name in its preferred format for an author. When CrossRef was first being developed, I was fortunate to be part of a small group (six people) who came up with a compromise so that publishers would contribute articles with a  contributed (minimum) data set to the DOI (Digital Object Identifier). This would enable resolution of the article so it could be pointed to from many systems without destroying the business of secondary publishers who were adding significant value to bibliographic record collections in topical domains. CrossRef seems a perfect home for ORCID as well.

With the discussions of the day before well in mind, many of the people headed over to the ORCID meeting the next morning. The meeting was a veritable Who’s Who of the publishing industry and underscored how important it is to get the common IDs going and get it right. There were many reports on the progress of the organization’s activities, which have been building since early 2010 and earlier as a discussion topic. There are a few big players who “own” the process, and a board is establishing directions. As of that meeting there is now an executive director, Laurel L. Haak, PhD, who started April 9 and so was effectively in her first week on the job. Since the,n ORCID has also announced the appointment of Laura Paglione as its new full-time technical director, starting June 4. This means that the interim people on loan from CrossRef can move back to their regular jobs. Geoff Builder has been the lead technical person, but only part time, as he still had duties at CrossRef.

There was quite a bit of underlying annoyance in the audience. I think it fell into these main areas: 1. The system of ORCIDs will not be released until the fall, a year later than was originally thought. Those who have ponied up time and money, but are not in control, are getting impatient.* 2. The ORCID solution currently proposed does not seem to solve the problems of the contributor workshop from the day before. Perhaps that is in future plans not yet outlined and before the group, but buried in subcommittee files somewhere. 3. The Board presentations emphasized that “the main” customer of ORCID is universities, especially their libraries. But the room was full of publishers with needs for a unified ID. Those publishers (including university publishers) are the people who will use and deposit and link to ORCID. I think I must be missing something really basic. Could it be a switching program for the many IDs that people could use? Apparently there are plans for a number in the file and that number is extensible.

* I went back and checked the website again today.  There is a very good paper about the structure of the ORCID. Under “Create a record” I found “An ORCID identifier will have the following structure: http://orcid.org/0137-1963-7688-2319. Individuals may create and manage an ORCID record for free. Name and email address are required fields. Additional fields include other names, other email addresses, organization affiliation(s), degree, other identifiers, and research objects such as publication, patents, and awarded grants. Individuals may control privacy settings at the data element level. Individuals may create a permanent ORCID record when the service is launched later this year. The ORCID number is already being defined and available to those wanting to be early implementers. There is certainly a developer sandbox and a set of APIs for people to link to, as well as much discussion on the technical site.

The ORCID site itself  is a bit tough to navigate around, but I found that supplementing my queries with Google made for refreshing discoveries. Papers by Michael Taylor of Elsiever on the technical side of the ORCID are always enlightening and fun to read. ORCID, or some version of a contributor ID, is definitely coming to a workstation near you, but it is taking a little longer to get here than I thought it would. There are other systems already  up and running – like VIVO.  The next few years will be interesting.

Marjorie M.K. Hlava
President, Access Innovations