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Resource Discovery - A Definition

Research Data Network CRC
Resource Discovery Unit
DSTC Pty Ltd
Level 7, Gehrmann Laboratories
University of Queensland, 4072, Australia


Like all new disciplines in information technology, the need for a clear and flexible definition of a discipline is mandatory. The main reasons for this are:
  • to provide boundaries between it and other disciplines, 
  • to be aware of the new responsibilities of the discipline, and 
  • to clearly define the area of research and development.
Resource Discovery has intuitive meanings but is a discipline that requires a concrete definition. Broadly, Resource Discovery involves the searching for information resources on computer-based networks. Resource Discovery is multi-disciplinary as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 - Resource Discovery Disciplines

It is not clear as to what level of interactions there are between the disciplines depicted in Figure 1. However, as Resource Discovery is relatively new, the mixture of disciplines, including ones yet to be identified, will become more apparent over time. 

Other Definitions

Others have attempted to define Resource Discovery. Yeong (1991) uses "discovery, searching, and delivery" while Bowman et al (1993) uses "information interface, dispersion, and gathering" to conceptualise the Resource Discovery field. Deutsch (1992) combines these views and includes "class discovery, instance location, instance access, and information management" in the taxonomy of Resource Discovery. A similar view is taken by Daigle et al (1995).

We feel that single sentence definitions lack explicit detail to adequately define Resource Discovery as well clarify the issues listed in the introduction. 

A Definition

In defining Resource Discovery, we need to look not only at the concepts and technologies used but who are the users and providers of Resource Discovery. Thus, in the Resource Discovery context, we need definitions for:
  • Resource, 
  • Discovery, 
  • Users, and 
  • Service Providers.
A Resource is any real or conceptual object that can be identified. It may be static or dynamic. It may exist for a short period of time, or may be persistent. For example, a resource may contain information, such as a document, a database, or a pointer to a book in a library. A resource may also be a service, such as the query engine to an World-Wide Web indexer, a person, or a computational matrix multiplier.

Discovery involves the finding and retrieving of resources that are relevant to the user of the system. Finding involves locating resources and presenting these to the user as a possible (and partial) solution of the find. The resources of interest can then be retrieved by accessing the resources and presenting them to the user in the most appropriate form. The user can also manage (save, edit, recall, etc) the found resources at either the find or the retrieve level. The discovery process should support a query or browsing interface (at a minimum) plus future methods of user interactions.

Users are usually human users but may be automated processes that have a need to fulfill a resource discovery requirement. This need may be transient or may include a more permanent system of resource discovery notification. A resource discovery system may utilise profile information on the user in order to provide more relevant and efficient discovery results.

Service Providers are entities that provide access and retrieval of resources to the community of users. The main roles of service providers are to provide a consistent profile of the resources that they manage and to adequately support those resources. A service provider must also be willing to participate in and support a resource discovery environment.

Other fundamental aspects of Resource Discovery include:

  • global scope - resource location should be transparent to the user and is only limited by global networks. 
  • distributed nature - resource access requires the support of distributed systems technologies. 
  • non-structured - resources cannot be assumed to follow any predefined hierarchy or other structure. 
  • no single protocol standard - a wide range of access and retrieve protocol standards should be supported. (Resource discovery is enhanced if dynamic exploration of interface requirements to the servcice provider's resources is supported.) 
  • scalability - a resource discovery system will work just as effectively in a global environment as in a local environment. 
  • serendipity - ideally, a resource discovery system should support the faculty of discovering resources by accident - ie finding a resource that is relevant to the users but they were not really sure they were looking for it. (Note: serendipidty is difficult to implement.)
Given the above definition, it is not appropriate and is misleading to attempt to define resource discovery in a single sentence.


We have presented a definition of Resource Discovery that we feel covers all aspects of the discipline. We believe that aspects of Resource Discovery will evolve in the future which will enable more sophisticated definitions to mature. 


Bowman, C Mic & Danzig, Peter B & Manber, Udi & Schwartz, Michael F. Scalable Internet Resource Discovery: Research Problems and Approaches. University of Colorado Technical Report, 22 Oct 1993.

Daigle, Leslie & Deutsch, Peter & Heelan, Bill & Alpaugh, Chris & Maclachlan, Mary. Uniform Resource Agents (URAs). IETF URI Working Group Internet Draft (Expires 26 Sept 1995). Bunyip Information Systems Inc, 21 March 1995.

Deutsch, Peter. Resource Discovery in an Internet Environment. Master of Science Thesis, McGill University, Montreal, June 1992.

Yeong, Wengyik. Towards Networked Information Retrieval. Technical Report 91-06-25-01, Performance Systems International, Virginia, USA. 1991. 


The work reported in this paper has been funded in part by the Cooperative Research Centres Program through the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet of Australia. 

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