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IMDB Gets Musical with SoundUnwound

Josh Catone

Amazon and IMDB (which is owned by Amazon) launched a Wikipedia-like music information database site yesterday called SoundUnwound. SoundUnwound is a nice compliment to IMDB, which has long been the web’s go to site for film information, and in some ways surpasses it in terms of layout and functionality.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a music database that has the mainstream brand recognition that IMDB has for movies. AllMusic might come close, but when my friends — most of whom aren’t among the Twitter-using early adopter set — need information about a band or album, they generally head to Google, Wikipedia, or Amazon itself. Those might be adequate, but music information is a niche that is still missing a dominant site, and it perfectly compliments IMDB’s and Amazon’s own core business — especially now that Amazon is in the downloadable music business. (Aside: Video games would probably make sense next.)

Even though SoundUnwound is built by Amazon and IMDB, the site resembles Wikipedia more than anything else. Each page (whether for band, singer, or album) has a very familiar wiki-like layout, which includes biographical or background information, discography or track listings (occasionally with MP3 samples from Amazon), and credits. The pages also draw additional media from outside sites, such as YouTube.

Each page has helpful suggestions for related content, which greatly increases the utility of the site and encourages casual browsing. That latter could increase impulse buying through Amazon. It is unclear where the recommendations are coming from, but our guess is a combination of Amazon sales and browsing data, data from outside sites, and general genre overlap information.

One of the coolest features of SoundUnwound, are the artist timelines. Each artist page has a timeline (see this one for Bob Dylan, for example) that puts an artist’s history on a visual timeline. It’s a great way to view and interact with a discography and get a sense of how long an artist has been producing content. In addition to releases, timelines also show when specific members of the band performed with the group, and events (though, for now I could only find timelines that had event listings for band formation and break up).

The only thing missing are song pages. It would be great, for example, if there was a background page providing information about the back story for Dylan’s “Hurricane” or Sage Francis’s “Makeshift Patriot.”

The initial data for SoundUnwound came from Amazon’s own catalog, Musicbrainz, Mechanical Turk, and the SoundUnwound editorial staff. What sets SoundUnwound apart from the IMDB as a database product, though, is that it is an editable wiki. IMDB has always accepted user edits, but the process is long and tedious. Years ago I edited the IMDB page of a friend of mine who is a visual effects artist in Hollywood to add his birthday. I typoed the year, though, and even after submitting a fix 5 times to IMDB it has yet to be changed.

SoundUnwound edits also need to be approved before they go live, so to be fair I have no idea if the process is any smoother than at IMDB, but the Wikipedia-style edit interface is a vast improvement by itself. Plus, while in edit mode, the edits of other users are are visible prior to editorial approval.

Smartly, Amazon is using SoundUnwound information to feed artist pages on Amazon.com.