[Smt-talk] John McKay's views of Wikipedia

John McKay jzmckay at yahoo.com
Sat Jul 23 22:11:41 PDT 2011

First, thanks, Dan, for the very kind comments.  I hadn't intended for my message to have broader historiographical repercussions, but your points are very well taken.

I've had some private correspondence with other list members following my post the other day, and there are a few things that might be worthwhile bringing to the list (which also connects with Devin Chaloux's point about improving references and links).

It certainly seems to be a good idea to bring our expertise to basic theory articles on Wikipedia and to try to maintain them as a good general reference.  Wikipedia is undoubtedly the first resource many people turn to today for a general encyclopedia (but, note, that it has only been so for a few years, and with the whims of the internet, that might not still be true even a few years from now).

But what is our intended audience for an article on Prolongation (to take the topic that has recently been debated)?  Surely not the average Wikipedia user.  If we are writing on specialized topics for ourselves, graduate students, and perhaps advanced undergrads, those people already know how to find other resources for good quality information.  If they don't, we can and should teach them.

To that end, I agree with Devon Chaloux's proposal that we might also work on providing useful references and links, rather than necessarily producing and maintaining a lot of new material specifically for Wikipedia.

Moreover, if we want to create our materials, why not do so in a place that is more stable -- whether a personal website, a blog, or even a private wiki open to collaboration from other scholars?  If it's good enough, it can be linked to Wikipedia articles, thereby making it accessible to any Wikipedia user with the least bit of curiosity.

In the long-term, scholars and advanced students would be better served by high-quality materials existing under a more stable and reliable structure than Wikipedia currently has.  If we, as a discipline, strongly value the idea of online collaboration to create a scholarly encyclopedia, I think we'd be better off contributing to something like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:


It would take a greater initial investment in terms of effort and resources than having individual scholars occasionally edit Wikipedia articles on a whim, but I'd rather see us devote our energies to something like that, rather than having never-ending debates on Wikipedia discussion pages.

Of course, in the even broader picture, I think eventually scholars in many disciplines will get frustrated with the drawbacks of Wikipedia at present, and either Wikipedia will change, or another resource with more stability and reliability will start to become more popular among academics.

But for now, we might well consider other options to provide accessible online resources that might take advantage of collaborative energy.

-John McKay

Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard University
Lecturer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

--- On Thu, 7/21/11, Daniel Harrison <daniel.harrison at yale.edu> wrote:

> From: Daniel Harrison <daniel.harrison at yale.edu>
> Subject: [Smt-talk] John McKay's views of Wikipedia
> To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
> Date: Thursday, July 21, 2011, 5:04 PM
> I want to commend John McKay on his
> recent smt-talk post on Wikipedia, and to draw attention to
> it for those of you interested in the history of theory.
> It's not only a detailed first-person account of the current
> state of knowledge creation on Wikipedia (esp. music
> topics), it also has links to "original documents," which
> makes it particularly valuable to historians. (I trust this
> post and the contents of its links will be archived.)
> That it's just one person's view is more than balanced by
> the links to documents, his history of involvement, and the
> reasonableness of his analysis. It rings true, as someone
> who has contributed modestly to Wikipedia myself.
> Given how widely Wikipedia is used for quick knowledge
> acquisition by our students, our kids and relatives, even
> ourselves, and given continued development of online texts
> and the ultimate decline of paper as a mass media, a lot of
> interesting (history of) theory will be made there. Given
> its ephemerality, historians will have to catch and archive
> it on the fly.
> Best wishes,
> Dan Harrison
> Yale University
> _______________________________________________
> Smt-talk mailing list
> Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
> http://lists.societymusictheory.org/listinfo.cgi/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list