Worldcat Identities

A lot of people think that there’s a single big identity play out there, and focus on technology solutions, but it seems to me that in true bottom-up internet style, we may eventually build our online identities out of a mashup of all the tracks we already leave in cyberspace. (Seth Goldstein has been exploring this idea with Attention Trust.)

One more small step in this direction was released by the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) last week. It’s a prototype of an author identity system that shows holdings of books by any author in all of the libraries tracked by OCLC in its worldcat system. (Worldcat is pretty interesting all on its own — it lets you search for books in any library. It’s a “catalog of catalogs” just like the internet is a “network of networks.”)

Lorcan Dempsey wrote on an email list I’m part of:

Here is a protoptype that some folks may find interesting. [Worldcat Identities holds] pages for 20 Million ‘identities’ mined from Worldcat…. Now, this has been created programmatically from the data, so it does show off inconsistencies …


The opening screen shows a tag cloud of the authors and musicians whose work is most widely held by libraries, but you can search for any known author. (Who knew that as far as libraries are concerned, Harold Bloom is right up there with Brahms and Chopin. That’s one influential literary critic!)

Identities aren’t just those of authors and musicians, but also their subjects, the actors and directors of movies, and so on, in a web of identities. For example, looking at the “related names” entry for Shakespeare comes up with:

Henry IV King of England 1367-1413 [+]

Gollancz, Israel Sir 1864-1930 [+]

Rolfe, W. J. (William James) 1827-1910 [+]

Lamb, Charles 1775-1834 [+]

Hamlet (Legendary character) [+]
Macbeth King of Scotland 11th cent. [+]
Lamb, Mary 1764-1847 [+]
Henry V King of England 1387-1422 [+]
Richard III King of England 1452-1485 [+]
Caesar, Julius [+]

Expanding one of these identities — say “Hamlet” — produces the following related names:

Shakespeare, William 1564-1616 [+]
Saxo Grammaticus d. ca. 1204 [+]
Orestes (Greek mythology) [+]
Murray, Gilbert 1866-1957 [+]
Bloom, Harold. [+]
Thomas, Ambroise 1811-1896 [+]
Olivier, Laurence 1907- [+]
Gielgud, John 1904-2000 [+]
Ophelia (Fictitious character) [+]
Sydney, Basil 1894-1968 [+]

In short, this becomes an amazing tool for social network exploration of the literary and artistic world.

(I’d really love to see this tied in programmatically to wikipedia. There ought to be an automatic link to this site for every identity in wikipedia!)

While many of the “identities” are for “dead white guys” :-), there are also a lot of contemporary authors. As Lorcan said, “Some folks on the list will have a page.”

Sure enough, I do have a page. How odd that Windows 95 in a Nutshell is my most widely held work! And who knew that in addition to Programming Perl, Larry Wall appears to be the author of “Indexes to hymn translations automatically generated from the The HTML electronic text from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, including all hymns from Hymns of the early church (1913) and Hymns of the Russian church (1920).”

P.S. Lorcan also blogged about WorldCat Identities here.

P.P.S. It may be a stretch for some of you to see the connection between Worldcat Identities and Attention Trust, but think about it, and extrapolate along the trend lines….