Version Control, Text Quality and Creativity

From my first acquaintance with Git following this discussion on the lilypond-user mailing list
to my extensive essay on plain text workflows I have repeatedly expressed my growing enthusiasm with version control and the increase in productivity it provides for musical or musicological work. So far I have seen and described it mainly as a means to technically manage collaborative workflows, but recently I have slowly come to realize that versioning and online collaboration can also have a significant impact on creative potential. There’s nothing revolutionary in my thoughts, probably not even a single new idea – nevertheless I think they are worth sharing and being considered.

When writing the posts on Scores of Beauty Janek Warchoł and I unintentionally developed a style of working that could be described as “peer review on speed”. Peer review is a well-known and very useful method to ensure quality standards in scholarly publications, but what has been increasingly inspiring to me is to inject the concept of peer review into the whole process of developing texts.

Currently we are two main authors here (Janek and myself), and when I start to write a post there can be several things Janek can/will do in parallel:

  • follow the development of my text (on request or voluntarily),
  • apply edits on orthography, style or formatting,
  • perform specific tasks like formatting code examples or preparing media files,
  • ask questions that force me to clarify my reasoning or even reconsider my position.

This process not only increases the quality of the resulting texts in detail but – especially due to the last point – considerably boosts my overall creativity. Facing such questions not only after having finished a text but during the whole process may lead me to thoughts, results and insights I hadn’t expected before. It is similar to actually sharing a room and developing ideas in constant exchange.

Well, this isn’t really new – there have always been scholars finding their insights through discussion. The point is that version control encourages collaborative work directly within shared documents, and without relying on physical proximity. Being able to directly edit each other’s documents without having to ensure a specific order of operations makes collaborative thinking and publishing a new and really inspiring process.

So far I only partially had the opportunity to experience this in working on a musical edition, but I’m looking forward to exploring the potential of these ideas further. For example in this “crowd editing” reference project?

I think making use of such capabilities to cultivate a more collaborative mind-set would be The Right Thing for humanist disciplines today (and the musical ones in particular). And I’m fascinated that – after numerous years in that business – it took me the acquaintance of a student of engineering to realize this.

2 thoughts on “Version Control, Text Quality and Creativity

  1. Janek Warchoł

    This comment is a bit late 😉 but i have to say that the same applies to me. It was especially visible recently, when i was preparing the series of articles about engraving Oskar Fried’s songs – Urs’ comments and opinions made me considerably rethink my attitude to the topic, and i think that the posts benefitted a lot from that 🙂

  2. Pingback: Distributed Editing, Responsibility and Quality | Scores of Beauty

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *