Signposting the Scholarly Web

Landing pages support humans that interact with scholarly objects on the web, providing descriptive metadata and links to content. But those pages are not optimized for use by machine agents that navigate the scholarly web. For example, how can a robot determine which links on a landing page lead to content and which to metadata? And, how can a bot distinguish those links from the myriad of other links on the page? Signposting caters to machine agents by providing this information, and more, in a standards-based way, using Typed Links as a means to clarify patterns that occur repeatedly in scholarly portals. As an administrator of platforms that host research outputs (e.g. data repositories, institutional repositories, publisher platforms, etc.), you can help machines to navigate the information systems you manage by implementing some of the Signposting Patterns listed on this site. Or, even better, by implementing the FAIR Signposting Profile that provides concrete recipes aimed at uniformity across systems.

Signposting the Scholarly web in Slideshare

Image courtesy of Patrick Hochstenbach.

Typed links, as used in Signposting, can be provided in HTTP Link headers, HTML link elements, and Link Sets. This example, as well as the examples in the Patterns section of this site, uses the HTTP Link header approach:

Herbert Van de Sompel and Michael L. Nelson are the authors of the paper with DOI; their respective ORCIDs are and The DOI redirects to the environment managed by the publisher of the paper, specifically to The publisher can express authorship information in a machine-friendly way by providing author links in a Link header provided in the response to an HTTP HEAD/GET issued against that URL. The publisher can additionally convey the persistent identifier of the paper by using a cite-as link. These links allow a bot to follow their nose to find pertinent additional information pertaining to the paper:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Fri, 19 May 2023 06:47:47 GMT
Server: Apache/2.2.15 (CentOS)
Last-Modified: Thu, 19 Nov 2015 14:50:19 GMT
ETag: "205a5e-f5ef-524e5e0ab80c0"
Link: <> ; rel="author",
      <> ; rel="author",
      <> ; rel="cite-as"
Accept-Ranges: bytes
Content-Length: 62959
Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8


There is very little interoperability among scholarly portals on the web. Most portals focus on access via the user interface. Some provide APIs for machine access, in which case each portal exposes their own. But how about some uniform approaches to allow machines to interact with scholarly portals?

Understanding that resources are scarce, Signposting proposes a really simple approach, based on Typed Links, to clarify patterns that occur repeatedly in scholarly portals. Typed Links are used to help machines answer questions like "What is the DOI of this PDF publication", "Where to find the publication resources from the landing page?", "Where to find the BibTeX metadata that describes the publication", "What is the ORCID of the author of this publication", ...

Signposting is not a formal standardization effort. It's just 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 Signposting approach is fully aligned with hypermedia (REST, HATEOAS) lines of thinking regarding web interoperability. Implementation of a pattern should be straightforward and would help machines significantly. Which would allow the emergence of new applications that make the life of a reader easier. Meaning great Return On Investment.

Some background material related to the Signposting effort:


Do you have feedback regarding patterns listed on this site? Are you thinking of another pattern that should be addressed? Do you have concrete suggestions for addressing another pattern? 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.