A researcher's publication record is one of the most important indicators of success. Every day, we enter someone's name into PubMed or Google Scholar to see what they have published. For many of us, including myself, our names are unique enough to let anyone find us on PubMed with little difficulty. But what if your name is common to several other researchers? What happens if you change the name you publish under, either after a marriage or for any other reason? Google Scholar lets you manage your list of publications to ensure that you are only presenting your own work, but the vast majority of researchers have not taken the time to update their Google Scholar profile.
ORCID, a non-profit organization, is helping to solve these problems. They have designed a registry of unique identifiers (numerical strings in the form of 0000-0000-0000-0000) as well as APIs to allow for authentication and communication with other programs or services. ORCID is free to individuals, who can register to receive an ORCID identifier and create a profile. Thanks to a connection with Scopus, many publications are automatically populated once a user begins the process. In addition to publications, ORCID has sections for grants and patents.
Of course, for a unique identifier to work, it must be widely adopted. A quick look at ORCID's member organizations would show that the use of ORCIDs has great potential. Indeed, a recent article by the NIH's Deputy Director for Extramural Research also mentioned the utility of the ORCID system.