what Wikipedia is good for

Phil Ford

OK, this is good for a laugh.

For the last few months the listserve of the American Musicological Society has been buzzing about Wikipedia. Many of those who post on the AMS-List are teachers who have noted, with some alarm, that Wikipedia has become the main source (or, often, the only source) for their students' essays. So there's been a fair bit of back-and-forthing about the what possible scholarly value collectively-written and -edited essays might have. While acknowledging the extreme lameness of some of the entries — for example, the entry on musicology, which it seems none of us have bothered to fix — I have to point out that there are things that Wikipedia does very well, namely, the discussion and analysis of extremely specific, not to say arcane, pop culture concepts. I give you the page on rock umlauts. I don't know whether the excellence of this entry is owed to one person or the postmodern anthill, but excellent it is. The sheer weight of examples, the careful consideration of gratuitous vs. non-gratuitous usage, the consideration of musical and extramusical sources — surely any scholar would look upon such an article with pride.

 

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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4 Responses to what Wikipedia is good for

  1. Bob says:

    Now Phil, that’s not quite fair. If you look closely at the history of the musicology page you’ll see I tried modestly to touch up the more outrageous comments from [I forget], who immediately trashed my touchups. Myke Cuthbert also has done some touching up.
    Look at some of the basic philosophy entries. The APA (American Philosophical Association) has actually tried to work more systematically w/ some fundamental entries. I wonder why the musicologists can’t get it together to do something along those lines?

  2. Nick Reyland says:

    Music lecturers seeking to impress upon their students the basic problem with Wikipedia (i.e., that much of it is, to put it bluntly, wrong, wrong, and thrice wrong) might like to show their students the following section of a recent _Colbert Report_ on ‘Wikiality’:

    You could use this satirical nugget to open up some interesting ideas about the nature of ‘truth’ and so on in the age of G. W. Bush, _Second Life_, and so on… or just show it in the hope that, having had a bit of a chuckle, they’ll then realize that Grove Online is a much better e-starting point, most of the time, than the wonderful world of wikis. Or, failing Grove, A BOOK!

  3. Phil Ford says:

    Sorry Bob — in truth it’s much better than it was the first time someone brought it up on the AMS-List, when you could fit the entire thing on a postcard. Still, you’re only one man: the whole point of Wikipedia is that the entries are the collective result of a community’s shared interest. The best entries get good because they sustain a dialogue among people who care about their topics. What’s lame is that a page on rock umlauts — excellent thought it is — is an order of magnitude better than a page that treats an entire branch of human knowledge. This says something about our collective priorities, I suppose. As a group, we (musicologists) are not really all about teh internets, individual exceptions notwithstanding.

  4. Bob Judd says:

    Right Phil. I think things will move more and more towards this direction, and would certainly like to participate (and encourage) if/when possible. Thoughts / suggestions could be funneled through this very blog, as well as the AMS structures. Thanks for taking the initiative in this space!

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