The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, released in 1966, is widely considered one of the greatest albums of all time, and is indeed marked as a Level 4 Vital Article by Wikipedia, meaning that it is one of about 10,000 topics that are considered most important in providing accurate and descriptive articles toward (according to the Wikipedia community). This in itself raises questions about the so-called objective nature of the online encyclopedia — creating such a lists effectively ranks the importance of individual pieces of human history, and this is being done by a representatively small portion of the population. The list was compiled as a Wikimedia project, and is a prime of example of the most useful and most controversial elements of Wikipedia: “What holds a knowledge community together is not the possession of knowledge…but the social process of acquiring knowledge” (Jenkins 2007). The site is ever-evolving, and the process of categorizing and contextualizing content, from specific bits of information up to the relation between and importance of different topics, is its most impressive achievement. Knowledge is participatory — it does not exist without a thinker, it requires emergence — and so a website claiming to be an authority over knowledge must be participatory as well.
Pet Sounds, as an ‘important’ historical entity, is naturally a spot of debate among editors. It was previously a Good Article, but this status has been revoked, likely due to criteria involving Neutral Point of View (NPOV) issues.
Albums, films, novels — most things that could be labeled as ‘art’ are divisive. It is very possible that many of the editors of the Pet Sounds article have deep-seeded feelings about the album; it shows in the writing and is heavily discussed. “This article seems littered with NPOV problems in terms of overcomplimentary statements, along with statements that, while they might be true, are unsourced, and would appear POV until sourced” (TheHYPO 2007). It would be impossible for human nature not to leak into human writing, but nonetheless it can be problematic in ostensibly factual arenas. In some instances, the addressing of this leads to near over-correcting by way of name-drop after name-drop (click image to see a larger version):
Perhaps the most surprising element of the Pet Sounds Wikipedia page is the surprisingly small number of editors and edits. Since its creation in November of 2002, the page has a total of 1,839 edits and 671 authors. For reference, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (which is essentially Pet Sounds‘ counterpart in music history) has 7,147 edits since July 2002 from 2,270 authors — numbers that are 3-4x larger. Why the astronomical difference? Traffic data implies that it could be simply a product of interest in the page:
The Sgt. Pepper page has been viewed 181,829 times since December, Pet Sounds 70,551 times in that same span. Interest breeds criticism and controversy, and much can be read into regarding the traffic of a Wikipedia article. As a general marker of public involvement, it is fair from this data to claim that the Beatles’ album is more talked about, and Wikipedia is one of the few outlets than can support such an assertion. The participation gap in authorship/viewership may leave some to be desired content-wise, but the connection between these two groups often aligns intuitively; discreet elements of history should be in equal parts learned about and taught about, and Wikipedia is, with flaws, a space for both.
Jenkins, Henry. “What Wikipedia Can Teach Us About the New Media Literacies.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan. 27 June 2007. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.
“Pet Sounds.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 8 Mar. 2015. Web. 8 March 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pet_Sounds>
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 25 February 2015. Web. 8 March 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sgt._Pepper%27s_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band>