Books Or Bits For Crowd-Sourced Content? - InformationWeek

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12/15/2008
10:51 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Books Or Bits For Crowd-Sourced Content?

I've got two books sitting in front of me, sort of. The first is Martin C. Strong's Great Rock Discography, 7th edition, with every track and every piece of vinyl waxed by 1,200 major artists. The other is the Web site Discogs.com, the "crowd-sourced" / Web 2.0 / pick-your-buzzword discography site that sports millions of discs by millions of artists. I rely on the latter often, but I keep the former on my shelf. So which will it be

I've got two books sitting in front of me, sort of. The first is Martin C. Strong's Great Rock Discography, 7th edition, with every track and every piece of vinyl waxed by 1,200 major artists. The other is the Web site Discogs.com, the "crowd-sourced" / Web 2.0 / pick-your-buzzword discography site that sports millions of discs by millions of artists. I rely on the latter often, but I keep the former on my shelf. So which will it be: books or bits, or both?

Discussion about content contributed by a community, or open content (there's overlap between the two but they're not completely synonymous) tends to also turn into a discussion of new media vs. old. Wikipedia's been the big example trotted out for this sort of thing for a long time, but it's far from being the only example.

Like Wikipedia, though, the big contrasts between GRD and Discogs for me are about the quality and consistency of the data you get for a project like this. Let's start with the GRD. On the one hand -- or maybe in your lap, it's a big book -- you have books like Strong's. It's encyclopedic and meticulously researched, runs to almost 1,800 closely-packed pages and sports artist rundowns written in a breezy, witty style that ought to be familiar to anyone who's peeked at the British music papers. But it also takes up a good 2-1/2" / 6cm of shelf space (not something I can dismiss, given how little room I have in here), is indexed only by artist, and can't be updated unless I go out and buy a whole new revision ... assuming there is one to be bought.

On the other hand, there's Discogs -- which is revised almost daily, is several orders of magnitude broader in its scope, lets me search by just about any entry type, and which needs only a Web browser and an Internet connection to be browsed. But it's also that much more scattershot: many individual artists have little or no data about them, or have entries written in a highly hagiographic style.

It's not a question of one having better quality data than the other, though. Both of these sources have different kinds of quality data. The only thing that really separates the two at this point is who gets to perform the oversight and to what end -- who takes the raw data and collates it into something that can be respected as a professional source and not just a "data demobcracy".

I don't think print resources are dead by a long shot -- partly because they still provide a convenient, familiar, real-world way to take data and freeze it into a snapshot. What I'm betting is next for crowd data sites like Discogs (and Wikipedia, and which already has happened to a degree for the latter) is taking the best-of-the-best data from that and putting it into an immutable form once a year or so: a DVD-ROM or BD-ROM, a collectible Flash drive with a built-in OS and Web browser, or -- gasp -- a printed book.

What happens after that is much hazier, though. I still think the best argument for having something like GRD around, though, is that I can read it in bed and not worry too much about what happens when it slides off the edge and lands on the floor. Can't quite feel that way about the Kindle yet.


Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/syegulalp

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