Testing thinglink.org

The past three weeks I’ve been working with Joni Suominen, Sanna Isotalo and Jessica Leino to put up the thinglink.org site. Now this weekend we get to test it. In this version you can register unique identifiers for your work, save them into your own maker portfolio, search things by tags, titles and makers, as well as print personalized thing-labels.

If you are interested in testing the site with us, please email me ( ulla_( at )_thinglink.org) or leave a comment here so I will notify you as soon as the site is up!

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Speaking about markets and free product codes at Kiasma 31.3.

On Friday 31st, I will be speaking about markets and free product codes in Pixel Ache at Kiasma Museum of Modern Art.

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Thinglink code format

We haven’t had a proper discussion about the format of the thinglink code yet. The issue came up some days ago when Wesa Aapro from the University of Art and Design Helsinki was testing the code for a mobile application he is developing. He noted that a random code (thing: 9A5Y43U9) that mixes letters and numbers is extremely slow to write with a mobile phone. What options do we actually have? Let’s make a list.

a) A random code with numbers and letters, for example thing:6R45TJ9C
+ no administration
+ no speculation or code trade
+ wide number space
– difficult to remember
– difficult to write with a phone

b) Random code with sequential numbers and letters, thing:347HTU or 123ABC456
+ no administration
+ no speculation or code trade
+ easier to remember
+ easier to write with a phone

c) Random number, thing:95846759
+ no administration
+ no speculation or code trade
+ easier to remember
– can be confused with other number codes
– limited number space

d) Accumulating number, thing:100 530 60, thing:100 530 61
+ tells about the size of the database
+ no administration
– possiby some speculation
– can be confused with other number codes
– might cause problems in the registration

e) Structured, meaningful number thing:358-09-45-6 (358 for Finland, 09 for Helsinki, 45 for hobbyprincess, 9 for HB thing number 9)
+/- difficult to estimate the administration needed?
+ the code could instantly tell about the origin of the thing
+ easy to remember
+ more credible?
+ no speculation
+ easy to write with a phone
– things change, makers quit, and areas merge.

f) Free format, DIY code created by makers, thing:ULLA12
+ easy to remember
+ fun
– high risk for speculation
– what would make them thinglinks?

A couple of days ago I talked with Julien Dossier from Paris, who has consulted Reuters on building databases. Julien suggested we’d try the second option, a random code with sequential blocks of numbers and letters. That is also my personal favorite.

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Thinglink posts on Hobbyprincess

In the past two months I’ve mostly been posting about Thinglinks on my Hobbyprincess blog. Just for the record, here are the recent thinglink-related HB posts:

Microformats for Thinglinks?

2006: The year of unique IDs? (For some reason this permalink does not work. Typepad issue.)

Thinking about metadata and databases

Using thinglinks to follow the life of an object

Logo by Syrup

What is a thinglink?

On the invisible tail and free product codes

Thinglinking at Maker Faire

Listen to Bruce Sterling

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Putting up a thinglink generator and Wikiproducts

In July Eric Wahlforss, Adam Wern, Jyri and I had a small workshop in Stockholm on databases and unique identifiers.

As a result, we ended up building a website, where anyone can generate unique identifiers for free. We decided to call this code – not a number or not even a code but instead – a link between things, a thinglink.

As an excercise for creating an open database we also put up a Mediawiki site called wikiproducts.org, where people can save information of products. Later, I realized that the Mediawiki interface is a bit too difficult to use for small producers like artists, designers, and crafters. So a workable interface is still an open question.

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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 www.LTIN.org or wikid.org – 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. quismo.com, where product information could be shown (e.g. quismo.com/company/product ). Quismo.com 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 musicbrainz.org or del.icio.us.

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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