As mentioned previously (see links below), Discogs' owners have employed a "Tom Sawyer gets his friends to paint a fence" strategy of labor, where most of the work is done by enthusiastic volunteers.
Unfortunately a clique* has emerged within this family of happy chumps, which has the power to downvote dissenters and banish them to CIP. What is CIP? The Contributor Improvement Program, a limbo that prevents talented and insightful collectors from making changes to the database until they get enough upvotes. And who gives the upvotes? People with voting power. Who hands out voting power? Algorithms, supposedly -- "the ability to vote is automatically assigned based on your interaction with the site." (And no, I am not in CIP -- yet; I made a handful of submissions and then started feeling used so I stopped contributing, thus lessening my chances of getting a vote but also of being exiled.)
Discogs is both a database and a market. So changes to the database affect the value of collectibles. But the clique likes to claim that database considerations trump marketing considerations. But do they really? Should they?
Discogs makes its money by charging fees to record sellers, who may or may not have voting power and a chance to guide the database. A seller may have to watch helplessly when one of the clique members changes the date of an item for sale and declares it a "reissue" or "repress," making it less valuable. If the seller has voting power, a moral outrage contest with the offending cliquester may result. Staff rarely intervenes in these disputes (too busy counting all the fee money?).
Let's take a specific example. Snakefinger's Manual of Errors (1982) has been in the database for years. Almost 700 people say they own it; 37 copies of it are for sale; values range from 14-36 dollars depending on condition.
User "valparaiso" (who has a Residents eyeball for his screen icon) realized that the first person to enter the disc in the database years ago made a mistake thinking it was the 1982 original, when an etched number in the runout indicates a later, 1985, repress. Photos and physical description of the '82 and '85 discs are largely identical. Before this week there was no other "1982" submission in Discogs. Instead of creating a new submission for the 1985 release, valparaiso changed the date of the database entry from '82 to '85, citing a rule about the first runout entered being the controlling data item.
Thus potentially hundreds of users with 1982 copies (including sellers) now have to switch "their" copy to a 1982 release newly created by valparaiso, with no records of ownership or sales. All the sales history remains with the 1985 release, which is patently inaccurate.
It is neither reasonable or fair to make people do this, so user Musikland steps in "reverts" the date. Valparaiso punishes him with an EI (Entirely Incorrect) downvote and delivers a smug lecture about how personal preferences should not be considered in making changes to the database.
A friend who has worked in the record business off and on and knows the collector mentality scoffed when I told him that Discogs had a monk-like caste who lived only for the Database and shunned wordly concerns. "I know these people," he said. "If they have the ability to change the database you can bet they will use it to reap personal, financial advantage."
How might this work in practice? Valparaiso says he owns the (actual) 1982 edition of Manual of Errors and he has made it the basis for his newly-created 1982 database entry. This entry is new to Discogs and has no sales history. The database shows a 1985 repress selling for $14-36. Let's say (purely hypothetically!) that in the timelag before users start migrating their personal collection data from the '85 to '82 version, someone offers a copy of this "rare" 1982 version for sale for $75 and a buyer, not knowing any of this history, snaps it up. The disc now has a $75 market value. Valparaiso (purely hypothetically!) immediately puts his copy up for sale and scores. Do this enough times, invoking, of course, the sanctity of the database and the need not to be influenced by personal preferences, and you could have some real money! Of course, valparaiso would never do anything this crass.
My friend has been selling his voluminous collection on eBay. Someone told him he really needed to look into Discogs. When I told him that collectors were in charge of the database he said "Thanks for the info -- that's very helpful -- I'll stick to eBay."
Why does any of this trivial crap matter? (i) Aesthetics. As with the art market, sales have a subtle or not-so-subtle effect on aesthetic judgments. I'd like to know how the mechanisms work. (ii) This is a brave new world of digital business and digital archiving. Nothing like Discogs existed 20 years ago. I'd like to understand the ethics of this corporate-owned cyber-commons.
*This group isn't small or particularly well orchestrated; it mostly consists of people who seem to have obtained voting power by "interacting" with the site thousands of times. People with "no lives," but also who share a vision of the Database as a place wholly in conformity with the Discogs Guidelines, no matter how out of date or inapplicable these rules are. Each clique member assumes an air of absolute authority regarding guideline interpretation, and allows no meta-discussion regarding the ethics of the Guidelines or Discogs as a whole. A stock comment is "if you have a problem with this rule, take it to the forums." Of course, the forums are dominated by their fellow cliquesters.
Update, January 2020: Comments on the Snakefinger releases described above, questioning the collector maneuvering, have been deleted from Discogs, after being on the site for several months.
Update, December 2020: Made some edits to this post. A month or so ago I was granted voting rights on Discogs (a shock) so now I'm co-opted. But seriously, will probably continue posting about the "experienced users" (some of whom are nice and some truly horrible) and the seeming lack of reflection about Discogs' dual commercial/bibliographical nature. Wikipedia has similar power to shape knowledge for good or evil, but Wikipedians don't have a marketplace, potentially judgment-distorting, built directly into their framework (other than frequent pleas for contributions).