Wikipedia thoughts

I think that Wikipedia and MusicBrainz have a lot in common — we differ in scope and how we collect data, (unstructured vs structured, respectively) but the overall approach of collecting data from volunteers is pretty much the same. Both projects rely on a set of guidelines to guide it’s self-selected contributors in the right direction. One major difference is that MusicBrainz has a peer review system embodied by our often discussed and much tweaked voting system. Larry Sanger, the co-founder of WIkipedia singles out the lack of a peer-review system in Wikipedia as it’s greatest flaw:

Second, my view is that Wikipedia badly needs a review process which the general public can regard as reliable. I personally made several different proposals of such review processes, and shortly before I left the project permanently, I was working on such a proposal. The Wikipedia community, like any large online community, is a pretty “political” place, however, and so I do not have the time or patience to try to organize a review process now.

. . .

A free, open encyclopedia that is reviewed has always been my vision for Wikipedia (and for its parent project, the currently-moribund Nupedia). From before the time that I left, I personally have regarded it as a serious failing of the project that it does not have a publicly credible review process.

In the past I’ve suggested a wiki style approach to moderation at MusicBrainz and the community has pushed back on that idea for many of the same reasons. In retrospect, I am glad that we have a peer review process in place — the voting system has taken a lot of our time (both using it and creating/maintaining it) but I think MusicBrainz is better off because of it. That’s not to say that we’re done tinkering with it — far from it. I wonder how difficult it will be for Wikipedia to bolt a review system on top of it’s wiki, should they decide to do it — that is a major challenge!

Then, Larry points out another problem with Wikipedia:

First, Wikipedia is, at present, of uneven reliability. Some articles have only recently been started; some have never received the attention of anything like an expert; some (fewer) have been degraded from superior earlier versions. This imperfect reliability is something that Wikipedia itself makes no secret of, particularly in its “General disclaimer.” I personally share the view of many that Wikipedia should not be used as a single source of information for anything. Defenders sometimes add that this is true of all sources of information, which is true, as far as it goes.

To a degree, this is true of MusicBrainz as well. However, I don’t consider this to be a problem — I consider this to be a fact of life. There is so much music and increasingly more is created every day, which means that MusicBrainz will always be behind in cataloging it all. Also, MusicBrainz will never be completely correct — there will always be mistakes. We will certainly aim to be more complete as time progresses, but it is a limit function — MusicBrainz will never be complete or totally correct. But, is that really a problem?

I don’t think so.

UPDATE: Clay Shirky has a great response to Larry’s article.

2 thoughts on “Wikipedia thoughts”

  1. While I do agree with you, I think that MusicBrainz’ voting system is far from a good review process.

    I have been doing and reading some research about open source projects, and I am conviced that both the quality and the rapid growth come from a very distinct feature of the communication and governance systems used by the projects: That making a change to the system incurs low costs for both the system and the user who makes the change, but ignoring that change incurs low costs for the system, too.

    MusicBrainz’ voting system is not a low-cost mechanism. Instead the cost of making a change is rather high (votes to be cast, wait up to two weeks) and the cost of ignoring random voters is high as well.

    So in this respect Wikipedia (and wikis in general) are a good step further than we are. I suppose something like a mix between a wiki and the rating of items like you find it on amazon or ebay would be the best thing. But then this is exactly what is porposed inSurvival of the Fittest.

    Tha major point that sucks with the MusicBrainz voting system is that normal users have to wait before they can use a change they made themselves. This should not be.

  2. I agree all around — I didn’t mean to say that our voting system is perfect. Far from it — I’m just glad that we do have one.

    I’m hoping that once I get past the non-profit, AR and the new tagger, I can tackle the moderation system. Quite a bit of stuff to tackle in 2005. 🙂

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