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ISSN for Weblogs

ISSN for Weblogs

by Joe Clark


Compatibility of Weblogs and ISSN, a background document for ISSN registrars.


Right. I see this is getting linked hither and yon. I spoke to someone from the National Library the other day, and I will be writing a background document for ISSN registrars before their upcoming conference in September. I am presuming that, on full consideration of the evidence, more Weblogs will be granted ISSNs. Interestingly, I was given a host of reasons, also applicable to other serial media, why an ISSN would not be issued, and some of those seem fair and applicable.

In the interim, you may continue to submit applications, and do please let me know how it goes.


Now that I’ve thoroughly fully Zeldmanized, I should mention that I’ve been sitting on loads of new information about different nations’ ISSN policies for Weblogs. In short, every country I have heard about is doing whatever it can to refuse new ISSN applications for Weblogs, usually on trumped-up reasoning. This will be fully updated in due course.

ISSN for Weblogs

You can apply for and use an International Standard Serial Number for your Weblog. Your blog will then officially exist in the worldwide standardized encyclopedia of periodicals.

News for registrars

First, if you are an ISSN registrar or if you merely have an interest in the policy issues involved in allocating ISSNs to Weblogs, read the document Compatibility of Weblogs and ISSN.


Weblogs meet the definition of “serial” (periodical) under the so-called Anglo-American cataloguing rules. This Canadian phrasing is typical:

A “serial” is a publication, in any medium, issued in successive parts and intended to be continued indefinitely. This definition includes periodicals, newspapers, annuals (reports, yearbooks, directories, etc.), journals, memoirs, proceedings, transactions of societies, monographic series, and unnumbered series.

A serial does not have to be printed. Electronic serials qualify as such. The U.S. elucidation tells us more:

The same criteria for determining if a serial is eligible for an ISSN apply to electronic and print publications: an intention to continue publishing indefinitely and being issued in designated parts. In the case of electronic serials – especially those available online, such as on the Internet – the most significant criterion is that the publication must be divided into parts or issues which carry unique, numerical designations by which the individual issues may be identified, checked in, etc. Electronic serials that are issued as individual articles meet this criterion as long as the articles carry a unique designation. Thus, a database issued quarterly on CD-ROM and carrying quarterly date designations would be eligible for an ISSN while the same database as an online service which was being continually and seamlessly updated would not be eligible.

“[U]nique, numerical designations” clearly refers to the print publishing tradition of enumerating periodical issues as Volume X, Number Y. But it also clearly applies to Blogger-style archive numbering (and the manual archiving system I use: f200008.html, 200011.html, v200009.html). The definition also includes HTML page anchors (a “unique designation”) like 200011.html#power.

Not every country enforces the “unique, numerical designations” rule. Canada doesn’t, for example, and even the U.S. probably isn’t strict about it if your archives have discrete filenames. (Even something like jan.html, feb.html, mar.html would probably suffice.)

Note also the explicit inclusion of memoirs in the definition. Daily-journal Weblogs are clearly Weblogs. Other Weblog styles are implicitly covered; the list of serial types is illustrative, not exhaustive.


There are a couple of advantages to securing an ISSN for your blog: Legitimacy and indexation.

  1. With an ISSN, your Weblog indisputably qualifies as a serial or periodical, putting you in the same category as Stern and the New Yorker (and Hustler, of course).
  2. Your Weblog will be indexed in the international database of publications. It will then be possible for a would-be reader to ask a librarian to locate your Weblog via the ISSN database.

Further, the more Webloggers apply for and use ISSNs, the greater the perceived legitimacy of electronic publications.

I admit that these advantages are soft, and likely to go unseen by most of your readers. The choice remains yours.


If your Weblog changes name, you must reapply for a different ISSN. If your blog address changes, you will need to file an amendment.


When I first posted this page, I wrote:

Presently, I know of two electronic publications with ISSNs: The NUblog and Tidbits, the leading Macintosh resource.

That number has since grown. There are now dozens of blogs with ISSNs; listing them would be superfluous. Adding an ISSN has become an accepted stage in each blogger’s development.

Caroline van Oosten de Boer reports, moreover, that the Dutch National Library is being arseholish and is refusing to give out any more ISSNs for Weblogs, despite the fact that blogs meet the requirements.

Still and all, by contrast, over 700,000 periodicals have been assigned ISSNs in print and other media.

With over 60,000 Weblogs in publication today – almost 10% of all the periodicals ever registered – loggers have an unusual opportunity to make their presence known in the only arena that librarians respect: Official enumeration. Remember, as far as librarians are concerned, if it doesn’t have some kind of number, it doesn’t exist.

So get one, already!

I strongly recommend that everyone sign up for an ISSN. In most cases, it’s free, and in many cases, you can apply online and have a number within 48 hours.


Look for other national ISSN registrars at’s country list.

One good reason not to sign up: Your local registrar insists on a printed application. How ancien régime. You may wish to humour them, and include a letter explaining how much easier things would be with online accession.


If you are having problems with a registrar who refuses to allocate an ISSN to your Weblog, or if you are such a registrar, read Compatibility of Weblogs and ISSN.


CSS version of my extremely superspecial layout by Noel D. Jackson.

Updated 2003.09.24