In the headline you find the essence of the work so far in the chapter. A hypothesis for a new food ID system in the form of a universally unique identifier (UUID), with a slight twist regarding the second group of characters in the series – actually more for the public than for the geeks.
It is also the viewpoint of the SIG board that the question of a unique food item ID is the very core of what we should do, refraining from other potential tasks, at least until the question of a basic ID has been solved, in one way or another.
In order to understand why we have arrived at putting the ID at the core, let’s look back at what has been going on so far.
The initial work in the chapter has bee a lot about sorting the discussion regarding which standards that already exist in the food world (_many_) and to understand where the wholes are.
Fundamentally one could say that the world of food doesn’t lack information. But it lacks open access to information. The number of closed databases are plentiful, as are the various information silos. While there also exists many open databases, the glue between them is missing. Hence the need for a unique ID for every food item out there, that could glue the data together, come it from food producers, consumers or other sources. Irrespective of what said data is today, or what could be considered valid data for food objects in the future (ingredient data, opinions, transportation routes, etc.).
This conclusion has been supported by several discussions in connection with public presentations of the SIG and the basic development of the world of food in new and more data intense directions. We have so far been present at events in the USA, UK, Chile, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden and to the world through a web-casted Google-hosted seminar. The very positive response we have received regarding the need to create more open access to food information and data is indeed encouraging. In this lies not only democratic values, but also the ability to create new innovations on top of such open data, enabling the world of food to become a better servant of our precious planet and everybody who lives on it.
The fact that so much data currently is locked into information silos and controlled from the top puts a severe limit in terms on how data from various sources can be accessed, combined and leveraged.
The increased value of data in the world of food combined with the lack of openness furthermore risks locking in certain existing structures, effectively keeping at bay the dynamic forces that can turn the current food system into something more efficient and positive.
Why shouldn’t we aim for unified structure around food data? Simply because we can’t identify and structure all the data that might be valuable to parties in the future food system. Plus that the discussions in the Internet Society should be fundamental and be possible to put to basic use in the Internet backbone, based on values such as free, accessible and open. Trying to lay our hands on the global structure for food data is an unsurmountable task, belonging to someone else – or to no one.
Our litmus test for the value of pushing forward with a distinct discussion around an identifier was further validated by the initial projects we set up: areas we thought we needed to dive into in order to understand the materia and to consider if there ever was going to be such a thing as an Internet standard around food. You can find them under the headline of projects.
So, what is a UUID? Let’s cut and paste from Wikipedia:
A universally unique identifier (UUID) is a 128-bit number used to identify information in computer systems. Microsoft uses the term globally unique identifier (GUID), either as a synonym for UUID or to refer to a particular UUID variant.
When generated according to the standard methods, UUIDs are for practical purposes unique, without requiring a central registration authority or coordination between the parties generating them. The probability that a UUID will be duplicated is not zero, but is so close to zero as to be negligible.
Thus, anyone can create a UUID and use it to identify something with near certainty that the identifier does not duplicate one that has already been created to identify something else, and will not be duplicated in the future. Information labeled with UUIDs by independent parties can therefore be later combined into a single database, or transmitted on the same channel, without needing to resolve conflicts between identifiers.
Adoption of UUIDs and GUIDs is widespread, with many computing platforms providing support for generating them, and for parsing their textual representation.
There is of course a lot to say about UUIDs. There are for instance several ways of producing them, methods for including various pieces of information, etc. The main point is however that it is virtually impossible to produce the same UUID twice. Or to quote Wikipedia:
”…for there to be a one in a billion chance of duplication, 103 trillion version 4 UUIDs must be generated.”
For the sake of argument, let’s compare to some real life facts. Rice is the world’s largest crop, contributing some 20% of the dietary energy for man. The yearly harvest of rice is estimated at 750 million metric tonnes. In every kilo of rice there are som 40,000 grains. In total, that means we produce 3e16 grains of rice each year. Which is really small compared to the number of atoms in the observable universe, estimated to be between 4×10e79 and 4×10e81. Which in turn is totally dwarfed by the total number of version 4 UUIDs: 2e122.
But can’t the industry handle this question itself? We for sure hope so, but so far we haven’t seen any such signs. EAN/UPC codes, while widely available and seemingly unlimited are unfortunately neither nor. Since they involve costs, bureaucracy and do not cater to the world of open data, they need to take a major leap in order to become free, open and unlimited. That said, the EAN/UPC system is amazing and serves the world well, but it falls short when it comes to the vision of a totally granular, data intense, open food world. So probably we need to add an additional ID for the benefit of the food objects that want to take the leap.
We don’t say that a UUID necessarily is the right way to go, but it is a strong contender for a further investigation. As is the attempt to not try and add more complexity beyond an ID, but instead leave those layers to service providers, search engines and other operators of the practicalities that put good standards to good use.
The Board of ISOC SIG Internet of Food
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