I love the DOI. It's the best thing since sliced bread. Actually, it's better than sliced bread - I can slice my own bread - but I can't do what DOIs do so easily.
If you've been living under a rock for a while, you might not know that a DOI is a document object identifier - it's a unique identifier at the article or chapter level (or really at any level - like each image, each paragraph, or the whole book). Like you have ISBNs for books and ISSNs for journal (titles). What's really cool is that you can just put http://dx.doi.org/ in front of one, and get directed to the publisher's page for the article. What if you don't have access to the article at the journal's site? Well, you can enter the doi into your institution's handy open url resolver thingy (like SFX) and it will find the best place for that document (somehow this works less well, not sure why). It's persistent, it's interoperable, actionable (see the site: http://doi.org). The publisher can move the document around and keep the same url using these fabulous things (it's a handle, too).
Publishers have to pay for them - really just to keep the apparatus up - but it's worth every penny. A lot of publishers have gone back to assign a doi to their whole digital backfile (to, oh, 1680 or something).
I'm not the only one who thinks they're handy, APA has required the inclusion of the DOI in the citation for a while now. Oh, and if you use Connotea or ResearchBlogging.org you can just enter the DOI to get it to fill in the rest of the information using the system.
A couple of niggling points:
- there are still a couple of publishers out there who don't participate (I know! Isn't that crazy?)
- sometimes the research databases don't export them in the citation or the direct export to a citation manager (WHY????)
- sometimes you get an article before it has a DOI or maybe after there's a DOI listed on it, but before it's registered in the system. I think this is becoming rarer, but it's a PITA. I get an RSS feed of early view articles from my society's publication. Used to be if you read the feed immediately, it would be 50-50 that the doi would work (it would always work a week later). Now it seems to be pretty immediate.
- some ebook vendors don't provide these at the chapter level. That's really nice when they do. It would be really nice if the various CRC netbases did.
If you enjoy reading about specifications and standards and all that jazz, check out their site. For the rest of us, use DOIs and be happy.