One of OpenCitations’ priorities is (and will always be) to keep its data globally open and available at zero cost and without restriction for third-party analysis and re-use. As a matter of sustainability, OpenCitations relies on financial support from the scholarly community, which includes those institutions that use OpenCitations data. However, OpenCitations has not so far had in place a proper system to monitor its users, and the main evidence of the impact of OpenCitations in different academic fields and countries has been incompletely obtained from direct contacts with our members and donors across the world, our collaborations with international projects, and the interactions on our social platforms (Twitter and LinkedIn).
We would now like to institute a system that enables us to follow the usage and assess the impact of OpenCitations more reliably. For this purpose, we are now happy to announce the launch of the OpenCitations Access Token System for access to the OpenCitations data and services.
An OpenCitations Access Token is an opaque character string that anonymously identifies a unique user of the OpenCitations APIs. OpenCitations assigns an access token only if authorized to do so by each user, who can request a token by inserting his/her email address into the access form and clicking “Get token”. Upon submission of such a request, each user will automatically receive a personal access token by email. Users can save their personal access token and reuse it every time calling the APIs of OpenCitations, by passing it as a value for the key access-token in the header of each API call.
Obtaining and using an OpenCitations Access Token is thus easy. It only requires a simple form request, and then the insertion of your personal token into the API call header when using OpenCitations REST APIs. OpenCitations will not store users’ email addresses or any personal information, so that the users’ privacy will be totally safeguarded. The token system just provides a simple mechanism for identifying unique users, for which the use of IP addresses is insufficient.
Obtaining an OpenCitations Access Token will take the user only a few seconds and needs to happen only once. You can request your OpenCitations Access Token here:
Use of an OpenCitations Access Token is not compulsory. However, token use will help OpenCitations incredibly, by enabling us to monitor the number of the unique users accessing our data and services, providing objective anonymized evidence of the number of institutions and researchers accessing our data either occasionally or on a regular basis, which we can then employ to demonstrate the usefulness of OpenCitations in the research environment. While the token system will initially be employed just for API calls (the most used service we offer), it will subsequently be extended to our other forms of data access.
OpenCitations exists for the people that use its data for research purposes every day, and thanks to their support. This is why obtaining precise knowledge of how many researchers and institutions are accessing our services is essential to us, since it will enable us to present the uniqueness and value of OpenCitations to new communities of stakeholders, and thus to make it possible to enlarge the already enthusiastic and diverse group of people and institutions supporting and using our Open Science Infrastructure.
To summarize: Getting and using an OpenCitations Access Token is voluntary, easy, and does not cost you anything. However, it will help OpenCitations a great deal. Please get your own token now, and use it next time you access OpenCitations. Thank you very much!
Guest post by Arcangelo Massari, University of Bologna
In this post, Arcangelo Massari, who recently graduated in Digital Humanities and Digital Knowledge under Professor Silvio Peroni at the University of Bologna, shares the results of his master thesis.
A particular problem in information retrieval is that of obtaining data from an evolving dataset, independent of the time at which that item of data was added, changed or removed. To permit such time-independent queries to be performed over evolving RDF datasets, I have developed two new pieces of open source software, time-agnostic-library  and time-agnostic-browser , that are now available from the OpenCitations GitHub repository.
The time-agnostic-library is a Python library to perform live time-traversal queries on RDF datasets. Time-traversal means being agnostic about time: a SPARQL query that is not run on the current state of the collection but over its entire history or over a specified timespan of that history . This tool allows materializations – obtaining all versions of an entity over time, or its status at a given time. Furthermore, SPARQL queries can be performed to get the delta between two or more versions of one or more resources. Thereby, the time-agnostic-library realizes all the retrieval functionalities described in the taxonomy by Fernández et al. .
To complement this query software, the time-agnostic-browser is a web application built on top of the time-agnostic-library to achieve the same results via a graphical user interface.
The primary purpose of these developments is to offer a system for browsing the provenance  of RDF statements across time: who produced them, when, where the information was taken from, and what changes were made compared to the previous state of the resource. Knowledge of such information is essential because data changes over time, either because of the natural evolution of concepts or due to the correction of mistakes. Indeed, the latest version of knowledge may not be the most accurate. Such phenomena are particularly tangible in the Web of Data, as highlighted in a study by the Dynamic Linked Data Observatory, which noted the modification of about 38% of the nearly 90,000 RDF documents monitored for 29 weeks, and the permanent disappearance of 5% of them  (Figure 1).
Additionally, the truthfulness of data cannot be assessed without provenance records and a system to query them. In fact, the truth value of an assertion on the Web is never absolute, as demonstrated by Wikipedia, which in its official policy on the subject states: “The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.” . The Semantic Web does not alter that condition, and trustworthiness has to be evaluated by each application by probing the context of the statements . It is a challenging task and thus, in the Semantic Web Stack, trust is the highest and most complex level to satisfy, subsuming all the previous ones (Figure 2).
Notwithstanding these premises, at present the most extensive RDF datasets – DBPedia , Wikidata , Yago , and the Dynamic Linked Data Observatory  – do not use RDF to track changes and record the provenance of such changes. Instead, they all adopt backup-based archiving policies. Some of them, such as Yago 4, record provenance but not changes. As far as citation databases are concerned, OpenCitations is the only infrastructure to implement change-tracking mechanisms and to record full RDF provenance records for each data entity. Among the leading players in this field, neither Web of Science nor Scopus have adopted similar solutions.
In accordance with the OpenCitations Data Model (OCDM) ,a provenancesnapshot is generated by OpenCitations every time a bibliographical entity is created or modified. Each snapshot (prov:Entity) records the responsible agent (prov:wasAttributedTo), the generation time (prov:generatedAtTime), the invalidation time (prov:invalidatedAtTime), the primary source (prov:hadPrimarySource), and a link to the previous snapshot (prov:wasDerivedFrom), using terms from the Provenance Ontology. In addition, OCDM introduced a system to simplify restoring an entity’s status at a given time, by saving the delta between two versions as a SPARQL update query (prov:hasUpdateQuery)  (Figure 3). This approach enables one to restore an entity to a specific timepoint (snapshot) in a straightforward way by applying the inverse operations, i.e., deletions instead of additions, etc.
This solution is concretely used in all the datasets related to the OpenCitations infrastructure, such as COCI, an open index containing almost 1.2 billion DOI-to-DOI citation links derived from the open reference data available in Crossref . It is important to note that this OpenCitations provenance model is generic and reusable in any other context. Since the time-agnostic-library leverages OCDM, it too is generic and can be used for any RDF dataset that tracks changes and provenance as OpenCitations does.
The time-agnostic-library is released under the ISC license and is downloadable through pip . Test-driven development was adopted as a software development process during its creation . It makes three main classes available to the user: AgnosticEntity, VersionQuery, and DeltaQuery, for materializations, version queries, and delta queries, respectively (Listing 1).
All three operations can be performed over the entire available history of the dataset, or by specifying a time interval via a tuple in the form (START, END).
The time-agnostic-browser  is also released under the ISC license and can be run as a Flask application. It is organized into two macro-sections: “Explore” and “Query”. In the former, a text input accepts a URI. By submitting it, the entire history of the corresponding resource is displayed. In the latter, a text area receives a SPARQL query, which is resolved on all dataset states. Its main added value is hiding the triples and the complexity of the underlying RDF model: predicate URIs, as well as subjects and objects, appear in a human-readable format. Moreover, all the entities are displayed as links, providing shortcuts to reconstruct the history of the related resources (Figure 4).
The efficiency of time-agnostic-library was measured with two types of benchmarks , one on execution times and the other on the amount of computer memory (RAM) required by ten different use cases, each repeated ten times to produce significant results and avoid outliers. In light of these benchmarks, time-agnostic-library has proven effective for any materialization. Regarding structured queries, they are swift if all subjects are known or deductible. On the other hand, the presence of unknown subjects in the user’s SPARQL query involves the identification of all present and past entities that satisfy that pattern, and so requires a more significant amount of time and resources. Specifically, all materializations and the cross-version structured query with known subjects required about half a second and about 50 MB of RAM; conversely, with unknown subjects, 581 seconds and 519 MB of RAM are required. It can be concluded that the proposed software can be used effectively in all cases where the subject is known, that is, for any materialization or formulated SPARQL queries without isolated triple patterns containing unknown subjects.
Other software solutions for such problems have been proposed. Table 1 shows the list of available software to perform materializations and time-traversal queries on RDF datasets. As can be observed, time-agnostic-library is the only one to support all retrieval functionalities without requiring pre-indexing processes. This feature makes it particularly suitable for use in scenarios with large amounts of data that often change over time. Moreover, compared to the approach of Im, Lee and Kim  and OSTRICH , the OpenCitations Data Model only requires storing the current state of the dataset, rather than the original one, allowing one to query the latest version, without additional computational effort to first re-create the original version.
Table 1. Comparative between time-agnostic-library and preexisting software to achieve materializations and time traversal queries on RDF datasets. (Scroll right to see Columns 6-8).
The OpenCitations Data Model and the time-agnostic-library software are the pre-requisites that will allow OpenCitations to involve third parties, for example members of staff in academic libraries, in the submission, curation and updating of OpenCitations bibliographic and citation data. At this stage, all entities in COCI have a single snapshot — the one made at the time of creation. However, since these entities may become modified, corrected or enriched over time, it is imperative to have appropriate software tools available for use by curators. With the time-agnostic-library software and its associated time-agnostic-browser, it will be possible for a curator to explore the entire history of the changes within an RDF dataset, to know when they were made, based on which source, and by which responsible agent, thus ensuring the reliability and verifiability of data, and facilitating any necessary further changes.
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Requirements for citations to be treated as first-class data entities
In my introductory blog post, I listed five requirements for the treatment of citations as first-class data entities. The fifth and final of these requirements is that there must be a Web-based identifier resolution service that takes the citation identifier as input and returns a description of the citation.
At the recent PIDapalooza Conference on persistent identifiers, held in Gerona, Spain, I described the Open Citation IdentifierResolution Service, the new resolution service for Open Citation Identifiers created and operated by OpenCitations .
In this post, I describe this Open Citation Identifier Resolution Service, which supports the resolution of Open Citation Identifiers not only of the citations documented in the OpenCitations Corpus (OCC), but also of open citations recorded in other bibliographic databases.
What is the Open Citation Identifier Resolution Service
The Open Citation Identifier Resolution Service runs on the OpenCitations server, presenting itself to the user as a web page with the URI http://opencitations.net/oci.
When a user enters a valid OCI and clicks the “Look up citation” button, this activates the resolution service, which, after a brief delay, returns information about the citation itself and about the citing and cited bibliographic resources, as shown in the following screen image (which for clarity omits the provenance data associated with this citation).
This information can optionally be returned to the user in a variety of other formats: RDF/XML, Turtle or JSON-LD.
Clicking on the links provided will return additional metadata held by the OpenCitations Corpus for the citing and the cited documents. In the near future, this service will be integrated with LUCINDA, the forthcoming OCC browse interface, to present this information in a more user-friendly fashion.
Using the Resolution Service with citations in an external resource via a SPARQL endpoint
The Open Citation Identifier Resolution Service currently works for citations between bibliographic resources both within the OpenCitations Corpus and within external bibliographic databases, provided that the external service uses bibliographic resource identifiers having a unique numerical part, and provides a SPARQL endpoint to makes available information about bibliographic resources and the references they contain.
It can therefore resolve OCIs identifying citations within Wikidata, such as oci:01027931310-01022252312, where, as explained in the previous blog post, “010” is the assigned OCC supplier prefix for Wikidata.
Entering this OCI in the Open Citation Identifier Resolution Service pulls live data from the Wikidata SPARQL endpoint and returns the following information about that citation, as shown in the following screen image (which, again, omits for clarity the provenance data associated with that citation):
Clicking on the links provided here returns information about the relevant Wikidata entities.
How the Resolution Service works
The bibliographic database supplying the metadata for a particular citation identified by an OCI is specified by the assigned OCC supplier prefix that forms part of the OCI, as described in the previous blog post. Each OCI is thus specific for and unique within a particular bibliographic database.
The resolution service takes the OCI entered into the search box, recognises the supplier prefix specifying the bibliographic database holding the citation information, parses the OCI into the database identifiers for the citing and cited entities, and then sends an appropriate SPARQL query to interrogate the SPARQL endpoint of the relevant database. When that database has returned information about the citation itself and about the citing and cited bibliographic resources, this is displayed to the user as shown in screen images above – or in other RDF formats (Turtle, JSON-LD, RDF/XML) according to the request.
It is important to realize that no other databases are contacted during this resolution process, and that the quality and accuracy of the metadata retrieved by the Open Citation Identifier Resolution Service is the responsibility of the database hosting that citation. The OCI Resolution Service does no more than retrieve this information, and does nothing to address possible errors or omissions in the metadata coming from the hosting database.
Using the Resolution Service with external citations via a REST API
While the resolution service presently works only to retrieve information from bibliographic databases having a SPARQL endpoint, we plan soon to extend this resolution service to work with information supplied by a bibliographic database via a REST API.
Coupled with the ability to create OCIs by numerical conversions of Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), as explained in the previous blog post, the Open Citation Resolution Service could then be used to pull metadata live from the Crossref REST API for any of the ~350 million Crossref open references in which the cited paper as well as the citing paper has a DOI, and for which an OCI can thus be created.
Query: return all the papers cited by the bibliographic resource “br/4186” included in the OCC, including the text of bibliographic references used in “br/4186” for making the citations and the titles of the cited papers.