At the heart of LibraryLookup there's a regular expression that matches a 10-digit ISBN. Wouldn't you know it, come January 1, 2005, that string of 10 digits grows to 13. Thanks to Tim Meadowcroft for the heads-up (via email, with permission). He adds:

All 10 digit ISBN's can be converted to 13 digits by adding a 3 digit standard code before them ("978" - it effectively puts all the existing codes into a single namespace), but as the last ISBN character is a base 11 checksum digit (that's why it can be "X" but all other chars must be digit 0-9), the last character will then change, see for details.
The ISBN numberspace is variably partitioned, sort of like class A, B, and C networks. A while ago I pointed to Roger Costello's isbn.xsd, a formidable XML schema that documents -- and validates -- a bunch of combinations of country ID and publisher ID. I'd hate to have to update that beast!

I gather that the new 13-digit ISBN will be compatible with the EAN / UPC [European Article Numbering / Universal Product Code] system. How will the variably-partitioned EAN / UPC mesh with the variably-partitioned ISBN? Beats me.

None of the publishers I know are freaking out about this impending change, so maybe it's not a huge deal for them. Regular folks probably won't even notice, except when required to speak ISBNs or type them into search pages. Like IP addresses -- and increasingly, like phone numbers -- ISBNs are just opaque identifiers. We rely on the Domain Name System, Google, Amazon, and other services to map those identifiers to names we can deal with.

In the digital realm this works out just fine. It's a bit shocking, though, when we reach for these mappings in the analog world and can't lay our hands on them. The classic dilemma: you call directory assistance from a cellphone, while driving, and try to remember the spoken digits long enough to dial them. My current solution: record a voicenote of the spoken number, and play it back a couple of times until it sinks into short-term memory. (I could pay for them to dial, but that would just gall me, and wouldn't plant the number in my phone.) The next step: do it as data, not voice. (Outside the valley of cellphone despair known as New Hampshire this is pretty common, I'm told.) After that: I dunno, but Ray Kurzweil figures we'll have ported consciousness to new hardware by then, which may solve naming and addressing once and for all. Or not.

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