Topic: Standards for uniquely identifying biological records
As biological records start to move more and more freely around the biological recording network, the problem of duplicate records will only become worse. The root of the problem is that when a record moves from one database/software implementation to another, these implementations normally have different ways of uniquely identifying records and so instead of honouring the unique identifier that a record comes with, they assign a new one. This increases the chances that the two records will, in the future, be considered as different biological records rather than the same biological record with two different keys – especially if one, or both, of them is edited or otherwise modified in some way.
If different biological recording system providers and implementers could agree on a standard for referencing biological records, the worst of these problems could be avoided going forward. One way that suggests itself is by using the Open Software Foundation’s (OSF) standard for Universally Unique Identifiers (UUIDs) as implemented, for example, by Microsoft’s Globally Unique Identifiers (GUIDs).
As a community we need to start taking a proactive approach to developing technical solutions to the problem of duplicate records. The NBN (through involvement NBN Gateway, Indicia and iRecord), JNCC (through involvement in Recorder 6 development) and BRC (through involvement in iRecord) are key players in the development of UK biodiversity informatics systems and standards. Is there a debate within and/or between these organisations around the possibility of standardising references?
Whether UUIDs or another standard for assigning unique identifiers were used, the crucial thing would be that all biological recording software providers should implement it. If the influential organisations in the UK biodiversity informatics development community effectively promoted a standard to developers and users of biological recording software, then conformance to the standard would come to be regarded as a ‘selling point’ and more likely to be implemented.
Technically, a standardised reference needn’t be difficult to implement. In the first instance, it could simply sit alongside the reference systems currently used by existing software. The key thing is that it would be honoured when records move between systems.
Biodiversity Project Officer
Field Studies Council