One Year a Wikimedian

Reflections of one year editing Wikipedia.

It’s been precisely one year since I did that most white and nerdy of things… I started editing Wikipedia. Or, to use the correct term, became a Wikimedian. (It is run by the Wikimedia Foundation, and you can contribute across various wiki projects beyond just Wikipedia, hence why you’re not called a Wikipedian).

Why did I do it? Luckily for me, I recorded it all in 750 Words at the time (22 September 2012). So, cut to 2012 Vicky:

To be honest, the reason it happened was because I was so angry about the lack of information relating to NZ music. How the hell was it that Loyal didn’t even have a wikipedia page relating to the single? So I’ve spent a lot of the last day and a half adding and editing pages. I’ll have to stop it soon but hope that I’ll at least have done a decent amount of it. On the one hand I wish that I had my Stranded in Paradise book here with me, but on the other hand am glad as it means I can’t get too obsessed about all of it. Anyway, it’s been interesting to learn stuff from that and the NZ On Screen docos: for example, that the Victoria of the Dance Exponents song Jordan Luck’s young landlady (though not named Victoria) who has an ‘arsehole’ of a boyfriend… I also found out that the Footrot Flats soundtrack was originally offered to Tim Finn but he turned it down.

So, what spurred me on was an obvious need: as many have pointed out, Wikipedia is far and above a US encyclopedia, which means that as soon as you get a little off the beaten track (such as a little set of Shaky Isles called New Zealand) the information there can drop off dramatically.

Some of the things that I’ve learnt since then are:

  • What it is to be notable. (I went and made a load of single entries for songs that didn’t break any top 40, which is a no-no).
  • How to understand tables and formatting with the dreaded Mediawiki markup (I’m quite proud of some of the ones I’ve done, and make an effort to convert all track lists I find to the appropriate template).
  • The concepts of fair use in relation to media footage and audio (and for that, how to convert tracks to ogg format)
  • How the Guild of Copy Editors is a wonderful way to kill some time, learn about random subjects, and brush up on your writing skills
  • It’s fun to be part of a drive to get more women of a particular subject onto Wikipedia.

More widely, I’ve found that being a Wikimedian changes your relationship to Wikipedia: see a badly worded article or broken link? Jump in and change it! I’ve got particular joy at getting articles that have disappeared or gone behind a paywall back from The Wayback Machine. It’s often interesting to capture the bits that get papered out of an artist’s history, say, for example the state of mind Dave Dobbyn was in (he’d basically been through hell) around the time of his first (well, second actually, but not many people know about that one) greatest hits.

When you start doing this type of thing, you begin to feel like an internet archaeologist: most of the city is shiny and new, but every once in a while you stumble on some older bit that’s been overlooked—you see the Flash animations, the earnest use of lime or yellow Courier on Black—or even more cunningly, you track down an old piece through the Wayback Machine like a private detective.

Conversely, as you start looking through your contributions history, you can see what you were compelled to edit over time: oh yes, there was that show I loved that was woefully underwritten, and that event I added some stuff to as it was going on. It’s something of an interest trail.

That said, I have noticed one thing that does most definitely stop people from being involved: the difficulty in getting new articles online. I’ve been lucky in that many of the pieces I’ve done have been obvious gaps, so have been able to bypass the content creation process. However, when I did have to create one from scratch, it took several weeks to get looked at (denied due to not enough references, a fair enough call at the time based on the article) and then a similar lengthy period when it was resubmitted a while later.

So, one year on, here’s hoping to many more!

(If you’re interested in getting into being a Wikimedian yourself, I wrote more technically on the process a few months ago on my other blog).


Vicky Teinaki is a user experience designer at Newcastle upon Tyne agency Orange Bus. She is also working on a PhD at Northumbria University about better ways of communicating design methods within the design industry.