Author Archives: Ulla

On unique identifiers: Jimbo replies

From: Jimmy Wales

Date: July 6, 2005 10:03:04 PM GMT+03:00
To: Ulla-Maaria Mutanen


Hello and nice to hear from you again. I’m sorry I’m so slow in
writing but I am always a week behind plus I took a week’s vacation in
France. Back at work now, though.

A problem with human-readable ids is that they will give rise to an
enormous number of problems with trademarks and special words, thus
causing a huge number of useless legal complaints and fights that would
add significantly to the cost of managing the system, and thus to the
cost of end-users.  That would defeat the purpose, I think.

I was thinking more in terms of a randomly-assigned 128-bit identifier.
128 bits can be represented in 8 bytes, and is a huge; Probably
using something that looks familiar to people is a good idea, though,
maybe something like hexadecimal.

What might be nice would be to choose a format that is somehow
compatible to existing barcode formats.  I’m not sure how to express
what I mean.


What I envision is a system like this, at the core:

1. I have made a product or service.  Anyway, it is a

of some
sort, and I wish to sell or trade it.

2. I go to a website and enter my information about the thing.  Some
parts of this are permanent and can’t be changed.  (The name of it, what
it is.); Other parts could be changed later (my address, my price for
the thing).

; I am given a code, a code that doesn’t look too scary even though it
isn’t a human-made word (to avoid trademark problems); Maybe it looks
like this:


Instantly, then, my product can in theory be placed into all kinds
of different databases either automatically or whatever.


My thinking is that the ecosystems which may build on the identifiers
should be kept separate from the identifiers themselves.  Let some
people figure out how to use Ebay-style points systems, let others
figure out how to use a Wiki to describe things in a community way, let
Amazon figure out how to make a transaction system so that sellers can
contact buyers through Amazon, etc.

The advantage is that the product identifiers themselves are not
controlled by Amazon, etc.  They are universal and widespread enough (we
hope) that Amazon will be forced to use them.  (They now use ASIN, their
own system, but they also use ISBN because the market forces them to do so.)


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Getting started

The idea of developing free unique identifiers got started at Reboot 7 in Copenhagen, where Jyri and I hooked up with our friends Adam Wern and Eric Wahlforss. On Saturday when the Reboot crowd went out for the evening, we met Jimmy Wales from Wikipedia in a bar and started talking. Together with Jimbo we came up with the idea of a Long Tail Identification Number, a unique free product code for long tail producers, such as micro-entrepreneurs, designers, and crafters. A couple of days later I wrote to Jimbo:

Hello Jimbo,

The idea of an open, wiki-based system for naming & coding "long tail products" has stayed in our minds since last Saturday. On Sunday, we had a very inspiring discussion about the possibility of LTIN with Eric Wahlforss and Adam Wern, the two extremely bright Swedish guys that you also met at the party. We got to the point where we actually decided to make a small practical exploration on how a wiki-based product identification system for long tail products would work. Would you or perhaps some of your colleagues like to join the discussion?

The first thing we discussed about was the structure of the code. If it is an url-address, how should it be composed?

First of all, we thought that the address should be readable by both humans and machines. An example of such address would be one, wherethere is first the general page reference (for example or – although those domains seem to be already taken), then a user name (to reference who has identified a certain product), and finally, the identification for a certain item (such as a name "MUKAVA-bag", or in numeric form 00123)

Another option could be, as Eric and Adam suggested, that there is a domain just for registering id:s. Quoting Eric’s words: “These id:s could then be used on another site, e.g., where product information could be shown (e.g. ). could then be either non-commercial or commercial; there could even be several competing sites. I believe it could be good to make a distinction between the registered id:s (that are objective, permanent, non-changeable) and the wikipedia-like content (that is changing, NPOV, and ‘open’).”

Also, we could think that there was a global id, which could be a unique string (e.g. md5), like on or

Anyway, we thought that once the structure of the id will be solved, we could ask some interested designers and crafters to test it with their products. Their use experiences could be documented for developing the system further.

There are also many other topics to be discussed, such as the link between LTIN and creative commons, but at least now we are stuck with the question of the LTIN structure. We also thought about blogging this question out and making it a public project with a semi-open project wiki, like for atom. Do you think it would be a good idea?


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