Discogs, one of the biggest online vinyl shops, holds an in-person sale
September 14, 2014 4:00 PM   Subscribe

In the late 1990s, Portland-based programmer Kevin Lewandowski shifted his musical discography efforts from a manually maintained drum'n'bass website to a community-built effort, and named the effort Discogs. The site grew, slowly at first, focusing on documenting any and all details of electronic records, then hip hop, rock and jazz, and eventually any sort of recorded audio, more or less. Other key changes include the 2005 addition of the Discogs Marketplace, and the contentious Version Four update, which changed the way submissions are moderated, making all pending submissions publicly visible. The latter change resulted in "the oggercide," but it was the former that brought about a vinyl revolution, uniting a world of record sellers small and large in one well-visited vinyl (and CD, cassette, DVD, etc.) record store. Last month, Discogs held its first in-person record sale, in Portland, Oregon.
posted by filthy light thief (13 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Discogs does what it does really well. It's a model of what internet media startups should be. Do something right, build on success, treat your users like shareholders, and treat your employees like family. Heck yeah, Discogs.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:31 PM on September 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Discogs does what it does really well. It's a model of what internet media startups should be.

It more of a model of what the Internet should be, of what a great, useful website should be. Screw this "Startup" rubbish - Discogs' success is build on 15 years of effort.
posted by Jimbob at 5:14 PM on September 14, 2014 [9 favorites]

Yeah, three cheers for Discogs, which has managed to nail being a community, a marketplace, a database, etc.

As someone who has been collecting records for half my life, the resurgence of vinyl in the last several years is annoying to me in various selfish ways. However, I don't begrudge Discogs their part in fostering it, and I wish them and their steady sellers the best in making a living from it. Even if it means getting what I want hits my wallet harder than it used to. :)
posted by rollbiz at 5:52 PM on September 14, 2014

Thanks flt, this is timely as I'm right now going thru six boxes of dusty vinyl from '80s and '90s and trying to decide what to do with them. Was gonna post on AskMeFi re options but will look into Discogs Marketplace. If anyone is into '80s synthpop or 4AD or Rephlex/Clear/Defocus/ART, all on vinyl, drop me a line.
posted by shortfuse at 5:53 PM on September 14, 2014

Discogs Marketplace was perfect for collectors, esp. compared to what we were buying/selling with before the Marketplace (anyone remember GEMM?).

However my time/contributions on Discogs dropped considerably when the community side switched from forums to their "groups" system which was a lot less usable.
posted by p3t3 at 6:12 PM on September 14, 2014

I quite enjoy Discogs when I have to research how I can find various rare music tracks. I've been able to buy some fairly difficult-to-locate items that way.

I feel like I need to download the data dumps, though, and put them in a database of my own, because some things are really, really hard to search for with their interface, like particular tracks.
posted by adipocere at 6:33 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

> Discogs does what it does really well. It's a model of what internet media startups should be.

> Discogs Marketplace was perfect for collectors, esp. compared to what we were buying/selling with before the Marketplace (anyone remember GEMM?).

However my time/contributions on Discogs dropped considerably when the community side switched from forums to their "groups" system which was a lot less usable.

Almost four years ago, I wrote about my experiences with Discogs. I was once one of the moderators for the site, back when moderators were selected by their peers, and that self-selected group actually reviewed everything that was publicly visible on Discogs. Initially, the site was focused on highly accurate information (as accurate as you can get with information from a variety of sources, some contradictory). The general idea was that someone should submit information on a recording that they had in front of them, not based on rumor or other internet information only.

The whole "oggercide" thing was when the site owner, Kevin Lewandowski ("teo" on Discogs) upgraded the site to "version 4," which significantly changed how the site operated. Previously, it used to take a few votes to approve submission for official inclusion in Discogs, to ensure no one would rubber stamp things and to ensure plenty of review, but this took a while. The moderators had a queue of pending submissions, and there were discussions on the state of the queue. But with V4, the items "in queue" were visible to the public, with some subtle color coding to indicate "this item has not been formally approved for inclusion in the site," and I think everyone was able to vote. In short, anything could get instantly included in Discogs, even if it was completely fabricated, or only entered in with cursory efforts. When there are (or were) ~30 different John Smiths (not to mention more Jon and Jonathan Smiths, to further muddy the waters), who would really spend the time going through the list of options to identify the correct backing musician for a random record?

This "everything is visible to the public" feature was the final straw for a number of long-term moderators. teo had a long history of making changes to the site without discussing the ramifications or reasoning with the moderators, people who had dedicated years of their lives to ensuring that Discogs represented a collection of accurately described recordings. After V4 was rolled out, I was even part of a group of people who were discussing how to create a new site that re-captured what Discogs used to be about -- a database focused on really accurate representations of recordings, not just a venue to sell records, as many of us had come to view Discogs.

But that effort was dropped, and as can be seen on Discogs today and by the comments in this thread, the site lives on and is doing well for itself, and in the eyes of most users. I realize now that the desire for utmost perfection in differentiating a UK release from a US release of the same record that was made in the UK but distributed in the US doesn't matter to any but the most detail-obsessed collectors, and most people want higher level information - when was the album released, where can I find a song, and sometimes who played what instruments on which tracks.

I learn about a LOT of interesting music, session musicians, and other weird aspects of recorded music history, and met some interesting people. It was fun, but I haven't been back to Discogs to submit any releases in years, and it's been as long since I've voted or commented on a pending submission. But I still view it as the best source for information on a wide variety of albums, including some rarities. While Musicbrainz might have more releases in their database, I know they (used to) get information from web store listings of albums as could be found on Amazon, ensuring that you really had no idea about what I had come to treat as key details (including catalog number) for a release. But it looks like that system's capabilities to capture details has greatly increased, as seen on this 2008 Japanese re-issue of The Who's Tommy.

A sure sign that I've been away from Discogs for a really long time (in terms of the aging of a website) and that Discogs has grown/changed, the Discogs team now includes 25 people, 9 involved with some aspect of "community support." When I was a moderator, some 6+ years ago, there was teo (main coder/CEO), nik (database guy, as well as public/forum support), and maybe another coder. But it warmed my jaded, cold heart to see another new "feature" resulting in general griping about site priorities and general lack of transparency back in 2012 (Facebook announcement about the site supporting "gravatars," which is apparently a "globally recognized avatar" platform).

In short, my comment from 2010 still holds true - MetaFilter is the only example I know of a site where the users are treated with respect and kept abreast of decisions in a decently transparent manner.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:08 PM on September 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

And another summary, in retrospect: Discogs needed to be something special and unique (a site for record collectors to obsess over details and get involved with cataloging their collections) to support its current form (a site to allow more releases with more general information, as a way to support more record sales, yet still serve as a music database). It's still a good and valuable site, but doesn't need to be what it once set out to be. And it's interesting to see that it has largely replaced GEMM and MusicStack as the go-to place to look for older records, more rare.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:20 PM on September 14, 2014

filthy light thief, do you remember the resident Discogs forum troll, painless? I think having to deal with him and a few of his pals was the impetus for teo to overhaul the forum structure. Personally I think Discogs, and most community sites could learn a lot by looking at Metafilter's system of maintaining order. Part of the problem with painless though, was that he had almost as many supporters as detractors in the forums, and it added to the overall divisive atmosphere that brought on the oggercides. I actually was supposed to meet painless during a record shopping visit to Kyoto, but it fell through at the last minute.
posted by p3t3 at 1:59 AM on September 15, 2014

Oh, shiiiii, painless. That handle brings back memories. Searching through the forums groups brought back a lot of memories - the personalities, the conflicts, and the fun of it all. It's sad to see so many old user accounts deleted (now listed as "anonymous"). I never met any fellow 'oggers in real life (that I know of), though I bought some tour merch for one who couldn't make it out to a tour, and someone else bought me a limited release record and mailed it from France to me in the US.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:12 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

It ain't often cheap, but nearly every "holy grail" vinyl record in my collection came via discogs. And sometimes you even catch a deal there. I found Basehead's "Play With Toys" from a seller in England and got it for around $30 shipped.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:40 AM on September 15, 2014

The musicbrainz system is that after a user makes an edit, that edit is open to be voted on by all users for a period of time. Three yes votes will immediately apply the edit, a single no vote will block it, or it is applied by default after the voting window closes if neither is met. Getting people to vote on edits at all is a problem.

Data comes from a lot of different sources - you can view the edit history if you're logged in, and the edit notes will say where the information comes from. "Copy in hand" is generally best, but other web listings are also used, either on their own or as corroboration. Discogs is a major source of information, and is viewed as extremely reliable. Site managed by the artist are pretty good. More removed vendors like Amazon or CD Baby are acceptable, although you're right that that won't capture a lot of important information. That's unfortunate, but the bias is to get as much information in the system as possible, when we can, and hope that later edits will flesh out the additional information. That works very well for releases by major artists and less well in the long tail.

(looking at that 2008 reissue that you linked, that's copied from discogs. The recording information is attached to the individual recordings and isn't actually part of that release - just linked from it. You can click through and see all the other releases that particular recording is on, at least as far as the database knows about. Linking to those particular recording entities was probably guesswork based on matching track lengths, but there's usually not too many distinct studio recordings of any given song floating around so it's a safe bet.)

Anyway, if you're interested in a detail-oriented database of music information, MB is pretty good. I'd say the most distinctive aspect of the site is the community sourced standards for data normalization, which are continually hashed out on the mailing lists and IRC.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:07 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I always like seeing their most expensive things sold lists for each month.
posted by Theta States at 8:35 AM on September 16, 2014

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