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Cleanup of the Month

February 11, 2010

In the course of my MusicBrainz exploration, I stumbled across the community’s Cleanup of the Month page. Originally “Collaboration of the Month,” CotM identifies a specific weakness in the metadata and encourages users to help fix it. In the past, CotM has helped to clean up the data for artists with huge catalogs, like the Beatles. This month’s cleanup is the unlinked disc report, which seeks to link orphaned discs (e.g., disc 2 of a compilation) with release groups. I have been working on this quite a bit lately and I really like the idea of a community project within a community project.

The aim is to bring the efforts of the community to a focus on providing the most complete and correct discography possible for a single artist, or to take care of a cleanup project too large for any one editor to handle.

I think this is analogous to targeted challenges in open source software, like where all developers are encouraged to pitch in and focus on a particular feature needed/wanted or kill a particularly nasty bug. The MusicBrainz community has identified a number of community projects, including FrogsTidyingMarathon, an effort focused on cleaning up the data for French artists. Unfortunately, my knowledge of French music doesn’t go far beyond Edith Piaf, so I won’t be helping with the frogs, but I can be helpful with Musical Term Translations.

A diversity of community projects can help the community capitalize on editors’ specialized knowledge and may provide a greater sense of empowerment and usefulness for contributors. And if the list lacks a project in a contributor’s area of expertise, a contributor is welcome dive into the forum and start a discussion, or in the case of CotM, suggest an artist in need of cleanup. It’s a great vehicle for publicized knowledge transactions: I’ve identified X need, and I have X knowledge to satisfy that need.

But a problem I’ve noticed is that the time stamps on many of the updates are four years old. Projects get started but don’t ever seem to be “closed.” The unlinked disc project had milestones laid out for every day through the end of January, but the numbers aren’t even close to the goals. Are these things functions of the immensity of the tasks, of people losing interest, of the transience of contributors, or a combination thereof? I wonder if more realistic milestones and manageable projects would increase a sense of accomplishment, thus build engagement with the overall project.

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