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Amazon Takes On Wikipedia With Editable Music Data

By Eliot Van Buskirk EmailSeptember 02, 2008 | 1:59:58 PMCategories: Social Media

Picture_1_2 Wikipedia is an undeniably helpful resource for researching bands, with fairly accurate data that tends to be updated in near real time. Amazon hopes the same sort of thing will happen on its new SoundUnwound site, which borrows a page from Wikipedia's playbook by allowing users to edit information about any band, label, album or song.

To get the ball rolling, Amazon has included music information from its retail site as well as data from the Internet Movie Database and Musicbrainz (an open-source Gracenote-style database that can associate metadata to CDs and digital files). Amazon staff and a Mechanical Turk group built upon this data before the site launched on Monday.

As with Wikipedia, users can edit this information, but not directly. All changes must be vetted by Amazon staff before appearing on the site, so you can forget about retroactively joining Run D.M.C. Rankings charts list the users with the most approved edits for the day, week or of all time, offering a bit of motivation to those want to amass that sort of authority.

SoundUnwound is well laid out and already offers a wealth of information. For example, the page for The Fall — a notoriously difficult band to cover, given all of their releases and lineup changes, includes lots of ex-band members, an accurate date of formation, and information on no less than 153 releases, including 28 studio albums. There's plenty of room for fans to add trivia as the site expands.

Discographies can be sorted by studio album, single, live album, compilation and EP. And once you drill down to an album page, links appear to purchase the band's songs on Amazon MP3. Relevant YouTube videos are embedded throughout the site as well. But one of the most attractive elements are the Flash-based, scrollable and zoomable timelines that depicts bands' history graphically.

Using The Fall as an example again, to the right is the section of their timeline where guitarist Craig Scanlon, bassist Stephen Hanley and drummer Simon Wolsencraft left the band. By mashing up the band member information with its discography, SoundUnwound lets users draw conclusions about how a band's sound changed as a result of personnel shakeups.

Amazon has taken a bit of heat for not including a way for all of this data to be used on other sites. "I am skeptical about any wiki-style site that doesn't make the user-contributed data freely available," wrote Paul Lamere of Duke Listens. And he has a point; it'd be nice of Amazon to allow this data to flow elsewhere on the internet.

On the other hand, I don't think Amazon has created the impression that this data is freely shareable. You know you're editing an Amazon site, so it doesn't appear that the company is being duplicitous by not giving away the data.

Ultimately, the potential success of SoundUnwound depends on creating a loyal, enthusiastic community. Wikipedia will likely always contain more information than SoundUnwound, but Amazon staff might be able to shape user-provided information in such a way that some prefer it for musical research.

And when they find something they like, a row of Amazon "buy" buttons awaits.

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