Signposting the Scholarly Web

The Signposting site started in 2016 by recommending patterns, based on typed links, that repositories can implement to make it easier for machines to navigate the scholarly objects they host. For example, use describedby links to point from an object's landing page to metadata descriptions of the object, and item links to point at the object's actual content resources.

Meanwhile, the site provides several specifications that repositories can implement to make their objects more accessible to machines:

  • Signposting patterns: Details the original patterns that use a limited selection of link relation types to help machines unambiguously discover metadata, content, persistent identifier, authors, license, and type of a scholarly object.
  • FAIR Signposting Profile: Provides a guideline with concrete recipes for the implementation of the Signposting patterns, including cardinality and requirements for links with each of the selected link relation types types.
  • FAIRiCat: Specifies the content, syntax, and discoverability of the FAIR Interoperability Catalogue, a static file that repositories can publish to advertise the interoperability affordances they provide, including repository-level and object-level affordances.
  • authorIDy: Describes a conceptual proposal for a machine interface that allows listing the contributions made by a researcher using their contributor identifier as a key. Hopefully, the proposal will evolve into a specification.

All these specifications share the following design principles:

  • Decentralization: The scholarly web consists of diverse, distributed repositories that are the custodians of scholarly objects, i.e. content and associated metadata.
  • Interoperability: Interoperability across the scholarly web is achieved by providing machine affordances at the end of those repositories instead of via centralized third party services. Interoperability is based on specifications that leverage existing formal Internet/Web standards, thereby helping the scholarly web to become an integral part of the web at large instead of remaining an enclave that also happens to use HTTP.
  • Permissionless innovation: The more repositories implement the same interoperability affordances, the lower the cost of entry becomes for the creation of services that leverage objects hosted by different repositories. Leveling the playing field in this way allows for the introduction of innovative cross-repository services.
  • Lightweight: Ease of implementation for repositories that are the custodians of scholarly objects and for machine agents that use those objects.

With regard to these design principles, the specifications on the Signposting site are very much aligned with befriended efforts such as COAR Notify, RO-Crate, RIOXX v3, and Event Notifications in Value Adding Networks.


There is very little interoperability among scholarly repositories on the web. Most focus on access via the user interface. Some provide APIs for machine access, in which case each repository platform has its own. But how about some uniform approaches to allow machines to interact with repositories? Wouldn't that make it a lot easier/cheaper to implement cross-repository services? Understanding that resources are scarce, the Signposting site lists really simple approaches that repositories can implement to improve machine accessibility of their content.

Signposting is not a formal standardization effort. It's an accumulation of ideas from people that have spent a lot of time thinking about the web and scholarly communication on the web, working on specifications to improve on the interoperability status quo, and witnessing some specifications being adopted and others not. Those scarce resources, you know.

The specifications provided under the Signposting umbrella are fully aligned with hypermedia (REST, HATEOAS) lines of thinking regarding web interoperability. Implementation should be straightforward and would help machines significantly. Which would allow the emergence of new applications that make the life of users easier. Meaning great Return On Investment.

Some background material related to the Signposting effort:


Do you have feedback regarding specifications listed on this site? Are you thinking of another challenge that could be addressed under the Signposting umbrella? Do you have ideas on how to promote Signposting in the scholarly community? Do you want to join the cause to make the scholarly web more friendly to machines?

Please let yourself be heard on the Signposting Google Group and/or on the Signposting GitHub repository.