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On Mailing Lists and Wikipedia

April 19, 2010

I’m beginning to feel like MusicBrainz combines strategies, practices, and processes similar to OSS projects and Wikipedia. The mailing list style discussions are particularly Wikipedian in nature in that they are largely about very specific details that would likely go unnoticed to the average MB user. They are active, to say the least; I had to switch over to daily digest version because I was simply getting too many emails from the discussions, mainly on the Style list.

Still have not transcribed my interview. Will happen this week, I promise. I just made some calls to price out having someone else do it and, well… not going to happen. Bummer.

My survey is ready for an initial round of testing. If any MB users still happen to be reading this blog, I’d love to get 2 or 3 of you to try out the survey and give me feedback on length and whether or not the questions make sense to you. Just comment and I’ll get in touch with you!

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Into the belly of the beast

March 31, 2010

This morning I finally subscribed to the user and style guidelines mailing lists (one digest a day, of course). I’m looking forward to seeing just how active the lists are and what kinds of discussions happen on a day-to-day basis. I’ve looked at the archives but I think participating in the present will help me better understand the conversations.

I still have not transcribed my Robert Kaye interview, but it’s going to be done by the end of next week, I swear. Once finished I’m going to write up a new history page for the site and figure out how I go about getting people to accept it. I think I’ll also fix up the Wikipedia page for MB because, well, it could use a little love.

In other news, I’ve made progress on the survey. I’m still waiting for approval of my second draft as well as eProtocol submission, but one of our awesome IT guys, Gary, walked me through the commands to install open-source survey app LimeSurvey on my Berkeley server so I can go ahead and begin building the survey there. I chose an open-source app like this for two reasons: the obvious one, that I’m working in an open source project so should probably use as many open-source tools as possible (hence also why I chose WordPress for my blog); and two, it seems like it’s more powerful than other options and I want to learn something new. So between my WordPress blog, LimeSurvey, LyricWiki, Wikipedia, and MusicBrainz, I’m working in/with five different open source projects/tools for this class. I didn’t intend for it to work out like this but I really think it’s pretty awesome that open source has come so far that I even can do this. I will not, however, go as far as using OpenOffice because it frankly just sucks. Sorry, Sun.

Achievement Unlocked!

March 15, 2010

I’ve finally linked Pavement members Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich to the Silver Jews releases on which they appeared. In doing so, I noticed a semantic detail that I hadn’t really paid attention to before. When linking artists to releases, you can choose from the following:

Here’s where granularity issues come into play for me. Let’s use my recurring example of Silver Jews. Cassie Berman, David Berman’s wife, wasn’t a band member from the beginning, but she was a band member on tour and on the later albums. I want to link her to the releases on which she played, but I’m not sure which of these options to select because of the way they display the relationship. That is, do I want it to read “Cassie Berman PERFORMED Tanglewood Numbers” or “Cassie Berman PERFORMED ON Tanglewood Numbers.” My suspicion is that PERFORMED is for tracks while PERFORMED ON is for albums, but I think PERFORMED ON could also be used to relate an artist to a track where s/he played a backing role.

And again, perhaps the answer is buried somewhere in the wisdom of the wiki.

A Lull

March 14, 2010

I’ve been somewhat inactive as an editor in the last week and a half since undoing my Silver Jews/Malkmus work. I still need to redo it, and link Bob Nastanovich, but I’m now caught up in designing a survey and jumping through the university’s hoops to get said a green light. Hopefully everything will work out nicely.

I have, however, been watching edits and am excited to see the Silver Jews info getting richer with the work of another editor, Bitmap. Yay!

That hour I lost last night?

March 2, 2010

There are limitations to building complex relationships in MusicBrainz, and my best guess is that it’s because to handle every nuance of relationships between artists, tracks, labels, releases, etc. would make the system much more difficult to design. Stephen Malkmus’s relationship to the Silver Jews is such a relationship.

Malkmus and co-Pavement member Bob Nostanovich were founding members of the Jews, along with frontman David Berman. While Berman remained constant throughout the Jews’ now finished career (sadness!), Malkmus and Nostanovich came and went from album to album. I wanted to express his relationship to the band in MusicBrainz, and since he didn’t play on every album but was a founder, I thought that it would be appropriate to tick the “additionally” box when building the “performed on” relationships. However, after a really nice discussion in the edit notes with two other MB editors, we came to a sort of collective conclusion that MB can’t really handle this kind of nuance came-and-went band membership, and it’s best for me to cancel and redo with him as just “performed.” But one of the users did point out that this is exactly the kind of situation for which the annotation box is well suited. That is, I can go in and make a note that Malkmus was a founding member, but came and went.

I just made the changes but the system hasn’t updated yet. I can’t see my canceled edits or my new edits from my profile yet. I hope MB didn’t eat them or something. [UPDATE: apparently if you change too much, too fast, it just can’t keep up]

Why is this information important? In my opinion, connecting these entities in MusicBrainz, even just with annotation to explain, aids in using MB for music discovery and information in general. There may be a handful of Malkmus fans out there who don’t know about the Silver Jews, and would indeed be happy to discover them through a link to their profile on Malkmus’s page. I haven’t really thought about MB as a system for discovery until now, and I think it’s an area I’d like to look more closely at as I proceed. Building the relationships is a very nice way to bolster MB’s potential as a resource for music discovery.

I just lost over an hour of my life…

March 1, 2010

…to one of my favorite bands. It was a good cause, really. It’s not just about manual data entry, which is how it seems when you say, “I’m working on a peer-produced music database.” There’s some research involved in this, and it can’t always be solved with a single Google query. In order to dig into the really detailed stuff (e.g., guest performers on an album) and you don’t have the album in front of you, it can take a combination of Wikipedia pages, online music stores, AllMusic, and Pitchfork to make sure I’m 100% correct about some things. This is why so many eyes look at this data. But Silver Jews fans can rest assured, I only linked Malkmus to the albums I’m certain he played on.

I may have to raid my friend’s CD collection so I can enter all the correct songwriting credits.

Lyrics come to MusicBrainz

February 25, 2010

Yesterday, MusicBrainz announced that they’d reached an agreement with LyricWiki that will allow MB to include relationships between tracks and lyrics over at LyricWiki.

As of today, the two projects are going to be able to work together better than ever. Now that LyricWiki has obtained licensing, MusicBrainz can now link to song lyrics without worrying about legal issues. LyricWiki has given explicit permission to MusicBrainz to do so and MusicBrainz has added LyricWiki links (as an AR type) to their standard.

This is awesome! I’m not sure I understand why LyricWiki had to clear licenses just to allow MB to hyperlink to LyricWiki pages but I’m guessing it has something to do with ASCAP. Oh, ASCAP.

It’s also another job that needs to be done in the database because, like Amazon cover art, the relationships between MB entities and LyricWiki URLs have to be entered manually. But work aside, having direct links to lyrics from MB is a pretty sweet addition, and brings the project a step closer to really becoming a music encyclopedia. And because LyricWiki is user-contributed too, not only is MB expanding their sources, they’re expanding their OPEN sources to include another corner of the open source/peer-produced domain. Plus I can expand my own project to adding and editing lyrics if they are missing or just really suck. In fact, I just realized that only a handful of Silver Jews tracks have lyrics listed. I know what I’m doing tonight…