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Proposal:Move to an OpenURL-type mechanism for linking to sources / references

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  1. Achieve continued growth in readership
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  5. Encourage Innovation


Move to a richer method of linking to external sources and references to overcome the problem that many information sources are available in multiple formats, in languages from multiple sources. Editors provide bibliographic metadata of the content at the time of writing and delay dereferencing those details to specific copy of the content until the user needs and preferences are known.


Rather than link directly to resource using a URL, references would contain bibliographic metadata (potentially including a URL/ISBN). When the user clicked on the link, the metadata would be combined with user preferences (languages, preferred formats, disabilities, perhaps preferred libraries / booksellers, etc) to resolve the details to a specific URL.

These capabilities already exist in the form of OpenURL ((ANSI) standard Z39.88), but I'm not familiar enough with the details of both OpenURL and the Wikimedia platform to understand whether OpenURL could be used unaltered.

Some bibliographic metadata could be populated semi-automatically, given a working URL, ISBN or ISSN and suitable tool support.


Individual works can be available from multiple sources such as:

  • Wikisource
  • Online archives (google books / archive.org)
  • Public libraries
  • Online booksellers
  • Scholarly websites
  • Hobbyist websites

Many of these have the work in different electronic formats (PDF, epub, txt, .lit, .mp3, etc), physical formats (hardback, paperback, CD audiobook, cassette audiobook, large print hardcover, etc) and even different languages (particularly for classic works that are widely translated).

Currently the authors of wiki articles have no way of knowing which format and which source a reader of the article is going to want, so they have to make educated guesses.

With OpenURL-like redirection, this decision could be delayed until the user clicks on the link. At the very least we know the browser language settings at this point, and could potentially know quite a bit about the

OpenURL-like redirection would also enable redirection from 404'd websites into archive.org (where available, naturally), on a per-URL or per-website basis rather than a per-wiki page basis.

OpenURL-like redirection would contain a super-set of the current ISBN and ISSN functionality. These works to be found both by ISBN/ISSN and by bibliographic metadata and would resolve to either booksellers, libraries and online repositories based on availability and user preferences. Because a broader range of metadata is available, redirection would also reduce the current issues that tools have with older publications (which lack these identifiers and so are significantly harder to locate).

Having bibliographic metadata in machine-readable form allows for (semi-)automated sharing of references, not just across different language wikipedias, but also more specialised projects (wikispecies, wikibooks, etc). This sharing enables those who care most about the bibliographic metadata to add/curate it and while devolving to each project decisions about how that metadata should be formatted in their wiki and devolving to users decisions about how to access the referenced work.

Key Questions

  • Can OpenURL be used out of the box?
  • Does this impact interwiki links or only truly external links?
  • Would wikimedia's OpenURL play nicely with users' local OpenURL to resolve links to paid content?

Potential Costs

  • All reference-related templates would need to be completely rewritten and uses migrated
  • A new OpenURL service would need to be created, hosted, maintained, etc.
  • Moving to full library/academic bibliographic metadata will require more work of those adding references (but this could be partly offset by cunning tools)


This proposal impacts on the large number of proposals that touch on referencing, citation and easy editing, because this proposal increases the bar to adding a reference. Typical proposals include:

This proposal would impact on Proposal:Accessibility for deaf and visually impaired communities by enabling users to specify that they want their references supplied as large print, audiobooks or access content where possible.

This proposal is essentially Proposal:Data-driven content applied to references.

Community Discussion

Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal talk:Move to an OpenURL-type mechanism for linking to sources / references, or improve the proposal directly.

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