WorldCat’s new canonical URIs are ugly and stupid

WorldCat is now permanently redirecting straightforward, hackable identifier-based URIs, to new, absurdly long canonical URIs . This means that a link to something like:

http://www.worldcat.org/isbn/9780060817084

now becomes:

http://www.worldcat.org/title/marley-me-life-and-love-with-the-worlds-worst-dog/oclc/58431841

Besides being longer and uglier, the new canonical URI forces a loss in semantic precision. It’s no longer sensible for me to reference multiple editions of the same work on WorldCat; every ISBN link leads to the same page. This is not progress.

(Ironically, I actually wrote a trivial Greasemonkey userscript that did exactly what I just complained about: redirecting from ISBN-based URIs automatically. The difference being, of course, that a userscript is optional. Only a few dozen people in the world ever used it; I myself kept it turned off much of the time,)

I know my Free Software bias is showing, but I can’t help but be cynical about the thought process here. (Hey, Amazon has really ugly default URIs for books that are tied to a proprietary identifier; we should do the same thing, only ours should be longer and even more arbitrary! Then they have to use our API to do anything useful!) At least Amazon allows the user to use the shorter URIs if they choose, which makes things like Gina Trapani’s userscript possible—and invaluable.

I first became interested in using links to WorldCat precisely to avoid Amazon’s ugly URIs and refusal to use modern 13-digit ISBNs. I thought a library-oriented nonprofit would be a better choice. Unfortunately, subsequent events have proved this not to be the case. At this point, if I’m going to end up with non-ISBN links, I might as well focus on using and improving LibraryThing‘s data whenever possible, rather than encouraging Amazon or WorldCat to strengthen their respective near-monopoly positions. So, http://www.librarything.com/isbn/9780060817084 it is, then.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “WorldCat’s new canonical URIs are ugly and stupid

  1. Hi James. You can continue to use the OCLC number-based URLs (for example, Marley and Me could be http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/58431841) and they will resolve. You CAN use the shorter URIs if you’d prefer.

    The shift was designed to make things easier for humans to guess at a WorldCat link. There IS also an xISBN Web Service from OCLC that you may find valuable if you prefer ISBNs to OCLC numbers.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your frustration about the change, and for providing some insight into why this change doesn’t help you.

    • Alice, thanks very much for the response to my rant; it’s appreciated.

      Thanks also for the reminder about the xISBN service; I quite forgot about it. And I do realize that being annoyed by WorldCat’s preference for OCLC numbers is, in a sense, rather missing the point. Since I’ve never forgiven Amazon for introducing those pesky words into their URLs either (or for allowing ASINs and ISBNs to diverge when the latter went to 13 digits), I think I’ll have to acknowledge that zealotry is playing a part here.

      (My tag of tilting at windmills may have been rather less whimsical than I thought at the time.)

  2. We ALL tilt at windmills at different times. No worries and we always appreciate getting feedback on changes–especially when the impact has unintended consequences.

Comments are closed.