Why Wikipedia doesn’t want you as an editor

Steve Joordens, a professor at the University of Toronto, proposed to his class that they will assist the Wikipedia community by adding content to relevant Wikipedia pages, reports. Of his 1,900 Introduction to Psychology students, only a small part of them opted to edit many of the Wikipedia pages.

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Some of Wikipedia’s core group of volunteer editors started to complain about the sudden influx of edits to pages, and expressed concern that those who edited them were not citing them properly, or were not knowledgeable on the subject. Of the 910 articles edited, Joordens told Canadian Press that only 33 were flagged for problems.

Nonetheless, discussion about the assignment became heated, with many editors proposing articles had info that has been plagiarized, or outright wrong. Many who were particularly outraged called for a ban on university IP addresses.

“I projected that the current core of editors was big and that the introduction of up to 1000 new editors could be seen as a positive,” Joordens told Canadian Press, also mentioning that he did not realize only a core group of many thousand people edit the web site visited by more than 488 million each month.

“However, the current core of editors turns out NOT to be that big, and if my students bringed signal with sound, the sound was just too much to deal with on the scale it happened.”

It may seem strange that a document that can be edited by anybody could have such rigorous rules, but the reality is, Wikipedia would not be the widely used resource it is today if everyone did jump in and edit articles. Wikipedia operates on a rigorous system of citing sources; something that university students should have a hard grounding in, but unfortunately, not something that all have a grasp of.

There are many resources online that anybody with an Internet connection can give to. Urban Dictionary, as an example, is a repository of slang that you or I could add to, in spite of of what we write. Consequently, you frequently get meanings for slang terms that are widely agreed upon, but an assortment of others that may only be used by a small group of people, or an in joke between friends.

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Wikipedia has made a point to not operate like that. To become the go to resource for many people online, Wikipedia relies on a group of volunteers who take the job of verifying Wikipedia entries seriously, quickly flagging things that are not sourced properly, or are strictly there for promotional reasons without causing a better understanding of the world.

Which brings us back to the assignment: no matter how keen Joordens’ students were to give positively to the Wikipedia community, chances are good that as a group of mainly first year university students, their knowledge of citing info was most likely missing compared to a group of dedicated editors. And since many were just starting their post secondary education, they most likely were not experts in any particular field just still.

The onus here is finally on Joordens: Wikipedia may seem like a free for all at times, but treating it as such only lowers the quality of articles on Wikipedia. By presenting it as something anybody could do without an understanding of the procedure behind Wikipedia articles, it cheapened the procedure and hard work that goes into the site. The editors of Wikipedia are only interested in having people who can give meaningfully to the site add or edit pages.

Ironically, though, if the backlash has not turned you off causing the world’s biggest open source encyclopedia, April is share Month for Wikimedia Canada, where those who want to learn how to give can meet present editors. Visit the share Month in Canada page for more info, and a list of dates and places for meet up events.

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