DOIs and URLs

I recently received an e-mail from the DOI folks announcing that the styling doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0271 (with the doi: prefix run into the DOI number) may be replaced with the actual URL that the DOI links to—in this case, http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2011.0271. This is big news indeed! But it is news that is unlikely to result in immediate action on anybody’s part.

For those of you unaware of DOIs, which remain relatively rare in the humanities but which are used extensively in the sciences, it’s a scheme meant to permit URLs to persist. Instead of a “permanent” URL pointing to a journal article, book, or other element, a DOI is assigned. The DOI is included with the publication so scholars can cite it. Then, in theory, someone who wants to access the article can just type in the DOI and be taken the article’s primary page. This can be the article itself, but more commonly it is a summary page, with citation info, abstract, and the like, plus perhaps an opportunity to purchase the article (example here). Then, when a Web site is totally restructured, as it inevitably is, the journal just deposits new URLs associated with the DOIs, and magically, the DOIs continue to hit.

According to the note from DOI, they had hoped or assumed that the doi: prefix would be automatically rendered by browsers to take you right to the DOI, so you could just copy or hotlink “doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0271” in a browser, and you’d be taken right to the correct summary page. This hasn’t happened, though, and bowing to the inevitable, DOI has given their blessing for the DOIs’ related URLs to be used instead. The DOI URL prefix “http://dx.doi.org/” simply replaces the “doi:” part. I can see DOI’s logic in preferring to hope that the “doi:” would be made to automatically hit, because now “http://dx.doi.org/” is going to have to persist. The “doi:” styling also has the beauty of being immediately differentiated from a URL, which is good because DOIs and URLs are different things.

This new styling may take a while to trickle down to common usage. For example, the latest (16th) edition of the Chicago Manual of Style provides styling information that uses the doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0271 protocol, and it’s much, much easier to point authors to a published style than to make exceptions. Oh, the irony! No sooner does Chicago get on board than DOI permits this new style.

Meanwhile, for those of you taking seriously various styling guidelines requesting DOIs, you may look up a small number of them at CrossRef.org’s DOI Lookup. You may also sign up for an account to do automated batch queries.

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2 thoughts on “DOIs and URLs

  1. Good point, Karen. CrossRef (aka the DOI folks you got your email from) is working with the style guides to make sure they are familiar with our new guidelines. You are absolutely right that it will take time for this change to be made and noticed. We think that ultimately the transition will be worth it and make scholarly citations easier to use for everyone.

    • Ooh, excellent, glad someone official is trolling the Web and commenting on this. I did a few desultory searches to try to find a public statement or something from CrossRef but had no luck; could be my google-fu failed me, or could be a post was too recent to hit yet. If CrossRef has a public statement posted about this, can you direct me to it?

      The academic journal I work on, Transformative Works and Cultures, has a rule that we will not hide URLs under words: we hotlink only URLs, so what you see is what you get. Of course, our sole exception is DOIs: we use the doi: format but hotlink to http://. So this would be a nice switch to make. But I won’t do it until Chicago approves it, in part because style-output generators, like Zotero, won’t reflect this change until Chicago makes it official.

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