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July 1, 2010, 11 a.m.

From Bryan Adams to Neil Young: Canadian Music Wiki

Wondered what Neil Young’s been up to lately? Or k.d. lang? Or Avril Lavigne?

If so…meet Canadian Music Wiki, the collaborative site dedicated to, yes, Canadian music. The project, the brainchild of the Vancouver-based j-school student and music journalist Amanda Ash, adds a new dimension to the crowdsourcing-of-information ethos behind projects like Wikipedia: It’s crowdsourcing culture. “This project,” the site explains, “is dedicated to using collaborative and social media to enrich Canada’s music scene by creating a comprehensive guide to Canadian music. We welcome your contributions.”

So the site’s not fully comprehensive yet (Justin Bieber’s not in there, for example, which means that the site is both incomplete and tasteful) — but, then, it’s also young. It came about as Ash’s masters thesis, part of the arts and culture journalism program at the University of British Columbia Graduate School of Journalism; the wiki was one aspect of a broader examination of public media’s new mandate in the digital world. (The digital journalist and UBC professor Alfred Hermida was Ash’s — and the project’s — adviser.) In August of 2009, Ash received a $15,000 grant from the internship facilitator MITACS Accelerate to develop her idea for a music wiki into a full-fledged, public site, in conjunction with CBC Radio 3. In September, she began her internship with Radio 3, working with the network to develop the wiki into a site that would become both a resource and an outlet for music fans in Canada and beyond.

The wiki had its public launch just over a month ago, in late May. Since then, it has generated around 14,000 page views, Ash told me, and — probably a more meaningful metric for a wiki — 2,300 pages of original, crowd-sourced content about Canadian music (everything from albums to songs, labels to venues, stores to studios). Ash and Hermida attribute that response in part to the wiki’s topic itself: Music is one of those things that, whether you’re into Broken Social Scene or the Crash Test Dummies or Shania Twain or even Justin Bieber (the hair, the hair, we get it), people tend to feel strongly about — and committed to. “It seems like people are happy to have a resource out there where the average fan can contribute,” Ash says. The wiki adds an extra element of democratization to music culture. “It’s kind of this two-way dialogue.”

That puts the wiki on the receiving end of one of the most sought-after resources in journalism: engagement. One mystery for news organizations — and, if solved, probably the closest we’ll come to a financial silver bullet — is how to leverage the interests, and the passions, of the crowd. And, yes, if there’s anything people tend to be passionate about, it’s music. But not just music, the product, tellingly — but music, the community: the concerts, the camaraderie, the shared knowledge of a group’s history and sensibility. Music is “one of those niche topics that people can create communities around,” Ash says. And while there’s no shortage of online outlets that serve those communities — MySpace, Pitchfork, and on and on — what a wiki offers is centralization by way of information. “MySpace is fragmented,” Hermida points out; and, on the other side of the scale, much of traditional music journalism focuses on pushing content out rather than pulling communities in. A wiki is a kind of middle ground: it gives and gets at the same time.

In that, the Canadian Music Wiki — a resource for journalism, more than a strict product of it — puts a culture-specific spin on the Wikipedia effect we’re seeing in journalism: It hints at a future of news that marries content with context, information with conversation, old news with new…all in a single platform. A wikified approach to music “flips the broadcast model on its head,” Hermida says. But it also fulfills a broader, and perhaps even more relevant, mandate: It “helps Canadians express themselves.”

POSTED     July 1, 2010, 11 a.m.
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