Thinglink in brief

Here’s a short description on Thinglink that I just wrote.

Thinglink – a free product code for creative work is an open database where makers can register free unique identifiers for their work and create labels for their products. The beta was launched at the Maker Faire/San Francisco in April.

Artists, crafters, designers, and small producers stand to benefit from online recommendation systems because recommendation systems place their products on equal footing with those of the large corporations. However, recommendation systems require unique identifiers for products. UPCs, EANs and EPCs are examples of standard ID schemas. These codes are not accessible to individuals and small producers especially in developing countries because the codes cost money and reserving them is a complex process.

Thinglink is a free, alternative product ID code that can be attached to products in the form of a human-readable label, a barcode, or a RFID tag. The idea is that anyone can thinglink a product, and anyone with the will and the skills is free to create a recommendation system for thinglinked products.

Read More is up! has now been officially launched! To get started, register yourself a free maker account.

Creating thinglinks is easy: click Create, and a blank form will appear with a unique thinglink. To register this thinglink for your work, fill in the required information. You might want to describe your work by writing stories about the ideas, materials, production techniques and the personal history behind the product, but it’s also ok to just add a link to your home page or blog post. To make it easy for other people to find your work, add tags (keywords) that describe your things. On people can search things by makers, tags, time period, and description. will also publish personalized thing-labels that you can use to label physical or digital products. Currently, the Labeling function is still under construction, but you can already send your own label design as a jpg file to to ulla*at*

There are still many details to be improved on the site but please, be patient with us. We’ll be doing our best to improve both the design and the functionality.

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Three days to go!

The new site will be launched at Maker Faire, San Mateo Fairgrounds on Saturday, April 23th. I have a short presentation about the project at the DIY theatre on 2:30 pm.

There are so much exciting things to see at Maker Faire! See the program.

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Creative Commons for will be published under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license.

Creative Commons License.<!–


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The past three weeks I’ve been working with Joni Suominen, Sanna Isotalo and Jessica Leino to put up the 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 ) 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, 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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