Wikipedia: Meet the men and women who write the articles
- 15 July 2012
- From the section Magazine
Now in its 11th year, Wikipedia is one of the most popular sites on the internet and has revolutionised the way humans across the world access information.
The system of sites holds 22 million articles in 282 languages. Individual language Wikipedias range in size from four million articles for English down to Fijian, Chamorro, Akan, Xhosa and others with fewer than 150.
The pages are written and maintained by a force of 85,000 volunteers across the world, and hundreds of the most die-hard Wikipedians gathered in Washington DC this week for the annual Wikimania conference.
So just who are the people who keep the site up and running, making sure internet users across the world have some place to settle bar bets, research final papers, or pass the time when bored at work?
Osmar Valdebenito, 24
Home: Santiago, Chile
Edit count: 37,000
Early edits: 1962 World Cup in Chile: "I remember I was looking for information. I found some mistakes: 'No, that wasn't the correct score.' I changed it, and then I saw there was another mistake. Then I started on the Olympics."
Favourite topics: Sport, particularly football: "I know something about the topic. I can't play soccer. I'm really bad at it. It's probably the way to express things I can't do in my normal life.
Latest project: President of the Chilean chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation; with the Chilean Library of Congress, uploading caches of congressional records from the first four decades of the Chilean Republic
Kamarniso Ismailova, 22
Home: Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Wikipedias: Uzbek, with English and Russian as source material
Edit count: About 5,000
Early edits: Cristiano Ronaldo (Uzbek version). After that I created an article about Linkin Park. After that I got more involved in science stuff, more useful general knowledge. Chemistry, geology, everything."
On Uzbek Wikipedia: "It's a very small Wikipedia - about 20,000 articles. It needs more editors. The population of Uzbekistan is quite big. It's around 30 million people, but the Wikipedia is so small. People just come to Wikipedia and they don't know how to edit. They get scared of all these templates and everything."
Richard Farmbrough, 50
Home: Stamford, England
Occupation: Project management
Edit count: 985,703
Early edits: Modafinil: "It keeps you awake, it's designed to work against narcolepsy. The American military use it for fighter pilots to save them falling asleep."
Editing habits: "If I discover that there's a common flaw or a mistake people are making, I can search the entire Wikipedia and find all the occurrences of that mistake. One good example was section headings in mixed martial arts. A lot of people put mixed martial arts and they used capitals, which it shouldn't be. I'm not particularly interested in mixed martial arts, but when I discovered that, I edited a whole lot of mixed martial arts."
Latest project: Incorporating into Wikipedia an edition of the Dictionary of National Biography that has lapsed into the public domain.
Wikipedia all-nighter? "It has happened, yes."
Bence Damokos, 24
Home: Budapest, Hungary
Wikipedias: Hungarian, English
Edit count: "A few thousand", including about 120 complete translations from English
Early edits: "Articles about American pop culture, like American TV series. Prison Break and stuff. I found that I could give something to the Hungarians."
Favourite article:Mill Ends Park in Oregon. "I like quirky stuff, just random facts and urban legends."
Other favourite topics: "Anything that comes up - a word I don't know. I like to read about naval histories and then all these types of boats, and the sails, and people. Wikipedia usually has a picture. You get the idea."
Jo Stallworth, 54
Home: Washington DC, United States
Early edit: Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington. "The article was confusing. It wasn't accurate." Editing the article "gave me confidence that it's possible for errors to be corrected, that Wikipedia isn't just a bunch of goofy people making up stuff."
Wikipedia vs. Libraries?: "Some of the older librarians still raise their eyebrows at any sort of mention or use of Wikipedia.
"The younger ones realize that the digital swarm can work this out, that whoever is egregious or wrong, they'll be dealt with and the truth will out."
Justin Knapp, 30
Home: Indianapolis, United States
Occupation: Pizza delivery
Edit count: 1.1 million
Early Edits: Western Sahara: When I was in high school I had a paper to do on India. I saw the CIA World Factbook had this thing on the side, this little bit called Western Sahara. I looked for more... and I couldn't find anything else and that bothered me."
Editing habits: "A lot of those are typographical changes. There's a category structure to Wikipedia, where some things are categorised in a hierarchical structure. One thing I've done a lot of is categorising albums."
Wikipedia as a psychological metaphor: "If you were to kind of chart the history of my editing on Wikipedia, you would see the times when I was depressed, and when I was happy, and when I was going through crap at home and when I was unemployed. You can see what hours of the day and how long I'm editing and whether I'm getting into fights."
Home: Jerusalem, Israel
Occupation: Collections Database Manager, Israel Museum
Favourite topic: Israeli art
Frustration: "I hate getting deleted. One morning my entire project [cataloguing the Israel Museum's art collection on Wikipedia] was gone. Some interns working with me on the project cried."
Motivation: Improving Wikipedia's coverage of the Israel Museum "gives people the opportunity to speak about things that are not connected to the political differences here".
Advice to new editors: If your work is deleted or modified "learn not to get insulted, it's not personal." But the whims of Wikipedia's administrators can rankle. "Unfortunately, you're considered guilty before proven innocent."
Why edit? "It's very empowering. You feel like you can make change."
Lane Rasberry, 32
Home: Seattle, United States
Occupation: Wikipedian in Residence, consumer rights organisation
Editing habits: Up to eight hours a week editing. "I've given up TV, I've given up movies. I've given up everything except socialising with my friends, playing sports and reading books."
Favourite topics: Popular science
On Wiki-vandalism: "If I see vandalism on Wikipedia, I get excited. If you can catch them and let them know that there's real people behind everything that happens on Wikipedia, then often you can convert them to becoming a constructive Wikipedia editor."
James Heilman, 32
Home: British Columbia, Canada
Occupation: Emergency room doctor
Edit count: 65,000
Favourite topics: Health and medicine. "Wikipedia has 34,000 medical articles which get 200 million page views a month. It's one of the most extensively used medical sources in the world."
Current project: "Many people have no access to healthcare information. Wikipedia is the only viable model at this point to address that.
"We're in 284 languages. The World Health Organization is in 70."