Thoughts from a new editor on Wikipedia and gatekeeping

In April, I reached 500 edits on English-language Wikipedia!! In my excitement, I published a Twitter thread which got popular; this is the blog post version.

Last October, I attended a Wikipedia editing party themed around homelessness. I’d edited a couple of incorrect details before on Wikipedia, but never anything major. At this event, I realized that by contributing to Wikipedia, I could contribute to how history is written. I was immediately addicted. It was so exciting to be able to contribute and so awesome to be able to see my edits live on Wikipedia.

One month in, someone noticed my edits. I had changed a sentence about the emptying of mental institutions “precipitating” homelessness in the United States, to say that actually, decreasing government subsidies caused an increase in homelessness. The other editor said that my sources were too biased. That’s fair: I dove into this topic and found that my original edit was incorrect. But the other editor also tried to delete my user page, claiming that I was using it for self-promotion, which was totally uncalled for. Luckily that was quickly declined by someone monitoring the deletion queue. I tried to make my edit again, by citing the government budget directly showing decreased subsidies, but this wasn’t OK because it was a primary source (and in reality, the government spent more than it budgeted) and original research. So I gave up on editing about Homelessness for the time being. Eventually I did more research and figured out the truth: The government had actually kept the dollar amount of subsidies the same, and homelessness increased because more people were in need. The article remained incomplete in its explanation, but I was too anxious to try to engage with the article again. At the same time, I saw a post encouraging Wikipedia editing about Effective Altruism, so I decided to practice my editing on something more low stakes.

Right now, I think what Wikipedia needs is more people improving existing articles, which is currently harder to do than making new articles. First, Wikipedia isn’t built for collaboration. It’s easy to clobber over someone else’s edits if you are editing at the same time. Second, it’s also difficult to improve a page if someone has been working on it who cares about it, who disagrees with you on what an improved page looks like. I’ve been having this issue with the Effective Altruism article. At one point I got so frustrated, I asked the other person to leave. This was an overreaction, but I think that complaining did help. I think we have been able to figure out how to co-exist even though we still disagree. Turns out, the way to fix disagreements on Wikipedia is rules and bureaucracy! For the Effective Altruism article, I nominated it for a Good Article Review, and I’ve been able to make improvements to the article based on reviewer feedback.

Getting to 500 edits is special for two reasons: First, it gives me “extended confirmed” status, which lets you edit some articles that are extra-protected due to disputes (like about the Israel/Palestine conflict). I don’t plan on doing any of that. More importantly, it gives me access to the Wikipedia Library! This is a treasure trove of journal, news article, and book access. I used to buy used books on Ebay when that was the only way to read it, but some of my books are in digital format on the Wikipedia library.

In summary, I can’t say I recommend editing Wikipedia as a hobby. Maybe you would like it if you’re the kind of person that is into research and writing, and likes the idea of your work getting a lot of views. But if you do get into it, I recommend finding a friend who’s a more experienced editor to help advise you, and back you up if some other editor is trying to unfairly push you around. Also, it turns out that maintaining a community like Wikipedia is a huge labor of love, from the person who ran the Wikipedia editing party (who I’m now friends with in real life!) to the stranger who kindly reversed the deletion of my account. It’s wild that the world’s best encyclopedia is run by an army of unpaid volunteers. I’m grateful!

I hope that my honest take on my experience helps others. Being able to contribute to the world’s most highly utilized encyclopedia is as frustrating as it is exhilarating.

Ruth Wong

From the Wikimedia Foundation’s Growth team…

The Wikimedia Foundation’s Growth team currently works on improving newcomers’ first steps on Wikipedia. The features they develop are immediately available when you create a new account.

The key Growth feature is the “Homepage”. That personal page serves as a basecamp for your first steps. To access the Homepage, simply create an account on that Wikipedia. If you already have one, log-in and type”Special:Homepage” in the search bar.

When you visit the Homepage, you get some suggested easy tasks to work on, based on your preferred topics. When you select one of these tasks to work on, you are guided on how to work on the task and on how to edit. We observed that newcomers use these features successfully, and continue editing more than the ones who didn’t get access to Growth features.

At several Wikipedias, some experienced users volunteer to support newcomers when they first edit the encyclopedia. They are known as mentors. At these Wikipedias, each newcomer gets one mentor, whose name is displayed on their Homepage. Newcomers can contact their mentor anytime, for advice on editing. Sometimes, the first edit made by a newcomer is to ask a question to their mentor.

At the moment, the English Wikipedia is testing the mentorship process. 10% of accounts get a mentor, but this number will increase as more experienced mentors join!

For more information, please visit https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Growth. You can also contact us at https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Talk:Growth. You can also search for Growth posts on Diff, at https://diff.wikimedia.org/?s=growth.

Benoît Evellin, User:Trizek (WMF)

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