The software infrastructure of the DLL is designed to make this resource inherently self-sustaining via voluntary,
collaborative contributions of content by the community end-users.
Contributions ordinarily shall include citation of the URL [Uniform Resource Locator, or Web-address] where a manuscript
image is hosted, and submission or redaction of
metadata describing the manuscript and its content.
The metadata—in the format specified by the DLL—may be paraphrased from metadata at the image-hosting site
or from other references, facts that don't involve
original authorship (such as the dimensions of the manuscript), and/or a description authored by the person making the
The goals and architecture of the DLL are significantly different to the
Wikipedia online encyclopedia.
Useful lessons can, however, be gleaned from the Wikipedia experience
as a paradigm for collaboratively-edited, online reference resources.
In a seminar talk [excerpted by the NEUMES Project, below], Jimmy Wales (principal of Wikipedia)
discusses some points that are relevant to the DLL. The seminar was moderated by
(founder of the Whole Earth Catalog).
Four of Wales' points are especially relevant.
- He sees a powerful trend in society: that knowledge and culture shall be freely available to everyone via
the WorldwideWeb. This trend contrasts to the era of printed books and journals, when the high costs of printing and
distribution justified making people pay for access to information. He challenges the theory that, in order
for people to produce high-quality work, they must be compensated financially. Wikipedia, he says,
demonstrates that people will contribute their time to a collaborative effort, if this work is likely to have lasting value
for the community.
- He challenges the idea that only persons with sufficient academic credentials or members of a scholarly group are
able to make reliable contributions to the body of human knowledge. He argues that many non-academicians have
valuable contributions to make, and that peer review is sufficient for ensuring the reliability of content on Wikipedia.
- He finds that, in the various language-branches of Wikipedia (as with open source software development
projects), it is necessary to have a "benevolent dictator" who controls a project during its early stages.
He says that a core group of editors (he mentions the number twenty) in each specific area of interest or expertise
can eventually assume this role.
- He says that Wikipedia is hiring professional programmers to create software infrastructure for
Wikipedia. In the past, he says, Wikipedia. has relied on volunteers to create its software.
He says, however, that relying on volunteers for programming (as distinct from volunteers for content creation) has not
been a successful strategy for Wikipedia.
||Jimmy Wales, "Vision: Wikipedia and the Future of Free Culture";
speech presented at the Seminars About Long-term Thinking; San Francisco, California; 14 April 2006.
The full speech [length: 1 hour, 16 minutes] is available at
The Long Now Foundation.
The requirements of the DLL differ from Wikipedia in two main ways, as follows.
The DLL is specialized for just one field of interest: manuscripts that contain medieval neume notation.
Wikipedia accommodates information from all fields of interest.
The specialization of the DLL allows the structure (or, ontology) of its metadata to be tailored just to this one field.
Search queries, search controls, content-browsing, and so on, likewise can be specially adapted for this field.
DLL searches can be made to appear more 'intelligent', because a significant
amount of expert knowledge about the field can be engineered into the software infrastructure and into the
Wikipedia's strategy is to allow entries, or modifications of entries, to be made by any end-user.
The DLL has an Editorial Panel of experts in the field of chant musicology. New data entries or data modifications coming
from the user community shall be approved by a member of this Panel before being incorporated into the DLL.
The Editorial Panel, however, is not meant to be a static group of 'insiders': it shall be self-sustaining over time by the
addition of new members. The process for adding new members to the Panel shall be that:
a new Editor shall be added to the Panel by approval of two or more existing members of the Panel.
A 'veto' power shall reside in the System Administrator (typically, a non-musicologist) solely for the purpose of
preventing a malicious 'hijacking' of the Editorial Panel by an inappropriate group.
In the field of chant musicology, this divergence from the Wikipedia strategy is deemed
(in the opinions of many chant scholars)
to be highly important for maintaining the scholarly reliability of the DLL content.
If nothing else, Wikipedia at least has occasioned serious discussion on whether systems of voluntary
contribution of content will—through community dialog—eventually produce reliable reference resources.
The main argument for voluntary contributions is that the contributors are not paid; therefore, due to the Internet, the work
product can be distributed for-free to anyone (the 'free culture' argument). The arguments for centralized control by an
editorial panel point to the risks of
malicious vandalism, self-interest or bias, and inaccuracy of contributions. The Wikipedia experiment suggests
that these problems can be solved by internal policing by the community. What remains an open question, however, is
whether a 'group think' mentality inevitably infects a community of self-appointed, non-expert contributors, such that
the community's viewpoint necessarily is nonobjective.
A negative view of Wikipedia is expressed by Dr David Hill (World Innovation Foundation),
who writes: "The greatest problem with Wikipedia that
we now find is that they are highly selective in who should place information and where, therefore they will never
really have a web-based encyclopaedia that is unbiased and totally factual. It is totally at the whims of the few
enlightened ones who control what should be a great reference"
[cf., The Long Now's "Blog Summary" of Wales' speech].
Jimmy Wales at his Macintosh computer.
Wales has been taken to-task for editing his own biography in Wikipedia:
"Having seen edits like this," says co-founder Larry Sanger, "it does seem that Jimmy is attempting to rewrite history"
[cf., Wikipedia, s.v. "Jimmy Wales"].
"Even Wales has been caught airbrushing his Wikipedia entry—eighteen times in the past year.
He is particularly sensitive about references to the porn traffic on his Web portal" [New Yorker Magazine, 31 July 2006].
The Boston Globe reports that Wikipedia's policy of allowing anyone to edit its entries has led
to "thousands of flattering or disparaging changes in profiles of dozens of members of Congress" [David Mehegan,
"Bias, sabotage haunt Wikipedia's free world," Boston Gobe, 12 February 2006].
"Wikipedia touts itself as 'the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,' and it is exactly that quality that is causing problems,"
the article continues. "[T]he dark side of that freedom is that Wikipedia's articles are becoming battlegrounds, pitting writers with
biased viewpoints and vandals trying to sabotage entries ...." Wales favors the current policy of 'open editing';
Sanger (who has now left Wikipedia) believes that, "supervision should be in the hands of specialists,"
says the Globe.
Gregory Fried (Chair of the Philosophy Department at Suffolk University) comments on Wikipedia:
"I don't doubt that it has good articles, but I don't know which are good and which are not" [ibid.].
Some university professors complain of students simply quoting Wikipedia,—without
citing any reference—in their 'research' papers in lieu of due diligence on homework assignments. This is
not, however, the fault of Wikipedia: there were ways to short-shrift one's homework long before
the advent of the Web. It would seem incumbent on educators at some level to explain to students the difference
between primary and secondary sources, the distinction between scholarly-edited and popular articles, and
the need for using quotation marks and citing one's sources in any case.
By contrast, the prestigious journal Nature finds that,
"the accuracy of science in Wikipedia is surprisingly good: the number of errors in a typical Wikipedia science
article is not substantially more than in Encyclopaedia Britannica, often considered the gold-standard entry-level
[Jim Giles, "Special Report Internet encyclopaedias go head to head," Nature, 438 (15 December 2005), pp. 900-901].
Britannica has disputed this claim [Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., "Fatally Flawed; Refuting the recent
study on encyclopedic accuracy by the journal Nature," March 2006]. Nature, in turn, rebutted Britannica in a statement of
23 March 2006. The crux of the disagreement seems to be that, in some cases, Nature compared Wikipedia
articles to articles in Britannica's Book of the Year, Student Encyclopedia, or website rather than comparing
to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, proper.
Some scholars have a low opiinion of the Worldwide Web because of the great amount of unreliable and
inaccurate content they find when they search in Google or other full-text indexes that try to cover the full
extent of the Web. Such censure seems misdirected: it impugns free speech on the Web, when it would more appropriately
be directed at indiscriminate indexing methods of robots.
In the landscape of dubious quality on the Web, Wikipedia seems relatively dependable for
accuracy—and it is free.