Minnewiki: Crowd-sourced relief for local music neophytes


Ever felt socially inadequate because you can't rattle off Twin Cities music trivia the way they do at The Current? Ever wanted your bottomless pit of local music lore posted for posterity on the Internet? Folks, step right up. We have the answer to both of your prayers: Minnewiki.

Minnewiki is the brainchild of Julia Schrenkler and Michael Wells at Minnesota Pubic Radio. It looks and feels like Wikipedia and allows any registered user to post or edit entries. It's a monstrous beast of local musical facts and figures: Hundreds of bands and people are listed. Funny thing is, it lives in near seclusion and has since September 2005. As a transplant to the Twin Cities and utterly lacking in any kind of appreciation for local bands, I only recently stumbled onto its modest little link at the bottom of The Current's homepage.

(How much don't I appreciate local music? Let's put it this way: I bailed on the Jayhawks reunion set at the Basilica Block Party in favor of the Black Crowes. Sorry. Big faux pas there. My friends were appalled. It'll never happen again, promise.)

Here's the thing: Minnewiki isn't complete. For example, the Prince page is growing, but not the page for Jimmy Jam? That's where all you music geeks come in. You can impress your friends and spare an ignoramus such as myself a lot of pain if you'd just sign up and start updating the site today. All this passion I hear about for local music? Here's the perfect place to put it.

Where did Minnewiki come from? Where's it going? I put those and some other questions to Schrenkler and Wells via e-mail. She's been an interactive producer with MPR since 2002; he's the managing producer for music and digital media at MPR, where he's been since 1998.

Q: Who came up with the idea?

JS: Early in site planning (January 2005) Michael Wells suggested it, but we had so many deadlines to beat we put the idea on hold. After The Current launched, one of the first community suggestions was to add a local band wiki. I remember beaming, because it meant other people were interested.

Q: And how did you two collaborate on the project?

JS: We literally sat in an empty office, working back-to-back for a stretch of days. That way we were able to immediately test and update pages. We just split responsibilities and double-checked each other's work.

MW: It was basically a week of planning and four solid days of building the site.  We had the luxury of two whole days to test the site before it went live. 

JS: Okay, that cracked me up. Because collaborating was fast, fun, and got the project out there for others to use.

MW: The other main reason for our collaboration was that it was the only way it could get done.  Julia brought a wealth of social media expertise (before everyone decided they were a social media expert) and I had the technical background.  We had a hand from a member of the I.T. department here named Reed DeLapp who was instrumental in the project specifications. We were still doing our day-to-day jobs on top of this.

Q: What background do you two bring to the project?

JS: We have different roles in the organization. Michael constructs things in record time, and The Current is part of his larger editorial/music site portfolio. I work in online communities and provided some of the rights and process structure.

Q: Was this something you worked on in your spare time? Did it take long?

JS: We devoted time to it, but had to maintain our other production work. At the time it felt like the project - which only actually took a week or two total - took forever between the task list and testing. It didn't. Now there are multiple wiki hosts that fire right up with maybe 20 minutes of set up, including custom images and copy.

MW: Both of us were braced for the worst.  Neither one of us at the time would've been surprised to see it turn into a big spam machine.  Also, the Internet is not really famous for its civility, so there was some concern there as well.

JS: Brace for the worst, pleasantly surprised.  Internet bed time story.

Q: Do you keep track of the number of contributors? Can you share any numbers? Are there just a hard-core few?

JS: Wiki's are almost completely transparent.  If you - like us - dig around through the pages, you'll recognize contributor names and activities.

Q: Lots of bands and musicians have been seeded, but no one has yet built out their pages. I assume you all picked the musicians to seed?

MW: We did.  We were working on the assumption that if we started with the obvious choices, the others artists would simply begin to fill in. Turned out the opposite was true.  Nobody wanted to be the one to start The Replacements' page, most likely because of the feeling that "it had been done."  Can't say for sure.  We were lucky that the music scene here is full of enough passion and knowledge about the music.  Every band has or had a groupie.