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AMA: Steven Pruitt, a Wikipedian with 3M edits (reddit.com)
239 points by aboutruby on Feb 24, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 33 comments

One strange thing about the AMA is the reverent tone of some of the replies. Some people are saying "thanks for this article" or "thanks for getting me through school", etc. I think there's a misconception at play because people are assuming since he has the most edits, he wrote most of the content. It probably also doesn't help when there are blatantly false headlines like "Meet the man behind a third of what's on Wikipedia". [0] In actuality, a majority of the edits are semi-automated and minor fixes: think things like fixing typos, categorization, or page formatting.

Not trying to diminish his work, but hoping to provide some perspective. It's important that people understand the vast collaboration behind the project and the numerous voices that have built it up to what it is today. If one person was responsible for most of the content, it would be nowhere as diverse as it is.

[0]: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/meet-the-man-behind-a-third-of-...

On the other hand, we can assume all of those small edits add value. This gives Wikipedia more appeal (no typos, clean pages, etc), which, in turn, invites others to edit. Are those his contributions? No. Does he deserve some credit? Some.

It is always hard to measure these secondary and further effects. The best way to determinte the value is a market with independent actors. Thought experiment: imagine Wikipedia edits were paid in some currency. Doesn't have to be monetary; it could be e.g. karma. How much would he have gotten per edit? Sum it all up: that's his contribution.

One thing is for sure: it's more than just a motley of typo fixes. He has, indeed, added a lot of value to Wikipedia, albeit probably indirectly, and, thus, helped people through school.

Of course. Like I said, "not trying to diminish his work". But it also gives the wrong impression of what editing Wikipedia entails. Anyone can edit, and even a single edit adds utility. One doesn't need to devote as much time has Pruitt has, or have reference books, or make as much edits. My point was that the commenters seem to have a misconception about who writes Wikipedia. It's not just Pruitt, it's people like you and me. It's also women, people from every continent, laymen, scientists, college students, retirees, people working alone, those at editathons, people who edit once, those who edit regularly, those who edit anonymously, those who edit under a pseudonym, etc. Wikipedia is a massive collaborative project; it's great that they're spotlighting his (commendable) efforts, but care should be taken to avoid outrageous misinformation like saying he wrote a third of Wikipedia. Those thousands of content creators deserve commensurate credit as well.

I'd imagine there's a pareto distribution of edits amongst users, and so it might not be so unreasonable to think that a handful of people have written a significant percentage of what's there.

Hmm, there's lots of ways you might go about measuring who has "written significant portion of what's there" and this "number of edits" is a poor one indeed.

But the nature of Wikipedia means that entropy/rust/rot is a very really thing - and the wikignomes that tirelessly keep articles together in the face of endless silly vandals and clueless people "just trying to set the record straight" are big part of that. Internally there is some recognition in the relatively new "Thanks" feature - and the "barnstar" business. However, just as with Steveen Pruitt, I suspect that the main driver for editors is being able each day to make the world a slightly better place.

Apparently, higher-up, editors get tools that let them make modifications to multiple threads simultaneously. [1]

And, Wikipedia happens to count those edits separately even if the editor applies the fix to multiple articles at once as a single action. <-- This is my self-assessment though, I could be wrong!

[1]: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/au2rjb/i_am_steven_pr...

Wikipedia (or, rather, MediaWiki, the wiki engine powering it) has a comprehensive API (see e. g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:ApiSandbox), allowing all kinds of automated tasks. You do not need any special permission to use it, however, you are rate-limited, unless you get an exemption. And, there are many ready-made tools utilizing the API for common tasks. Either local tools like Pywikibot or hosted online like many tools on tools.wmflabs.org

He says in the AMA the tool he uses is invite-only after you have over 500ish edits.

The tool is called AWB, [0] and a better way to explain it would be that it lets you work on lists of articles, applying the same change to each, but each edit still has to be approved one-by-one. It's only bots that are normally allowed to just fire away edits and those have to be granted permission beforehand. [1] Pruitt does not have any special bot exemption, [2] and those running bots are usually expected to create a separate account for them. Indeed, looking at his contributions, [3] they have the tag "AWB". The requirements are also not that high, needing only "250 non-automated mainspace edits or 500 total mainspace edits" to be eligible.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:AutoWikiBrowser

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Bot_policy

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:ListUsers...

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/Ser_Aman...

He did say he hasn't written original content in quite a while, and most of his changes are edits.

Another editor here: that's entirely right.

3 millions edits, however, is still an astonishing accomplishment, even taking this into account. Edits that don't require any human thinking are usually done by bot accounts, and few of them have that many edits.

I didn't find whether this counts as a single action but I found the website hosting most of the tools: https://tools.wmflabs.org (I was looking for this site for a while and couldn't find it)

Sounds like a really humble and level-headed guy. Kudos for all the selfless hours he has put in for the greater good.


User Aka[1] in the German Wikipedia follows Steven with only 30,000 edits behind in the main namespace.

[1] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benutzer:Aka

[2] some statistics:

English Wikipedia: https://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/TablesWikipediaEN.htm

German Wikipedia: https://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/TablesWikipediaDE.htm

Turns out the guy who wrote Baba Yetu (civilization 4 theme song which won grammy) is in the comments too, thanking Steven https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/au2rjb/i_am_steven_pr.... What a small world we live in.

Funny! I met Christopher Tin once, and got to sing his music, on a choir tour in Turkey. It was during the mass protests in 2013.

It's a bit sad that this guy mainly came into the spotlight because of some Twitter user making fun of his appearance and not because of his work.

That's not true, that's just some internet drama, the CBS interview was the starting point [1], which is actually not great compared to the Washington Post article [3].

[1]: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/meet-the-man-behind-a-third-of-...

[2]: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/meet-the-m...

For some humble self-reflection: You just brought the spotlight on his apparently-noteworthy appearance here. This was not discussed by anyone here and at least for me, nothing that would have come to mind.

I don't think GP is agreeing with it, or that it requires "humble self reflection": the Twitter thing made Reddit's front page (which is seen by many more people than the CBS and HN combined, and is incidentally where I first heard about it as well).

You can step off that high horse now.

Leave out that last sentence and you’re making a cogent, convincing argument; the insult adds nothing and takes something away.

Agreed. Might have upvoted, instead downvoted.

What a world we live in

I'm pretty sure Steven Pruitt read the Asimov trilogy cover to cover and loved it!

> the Asimov trilogy

Just for clarity, I think you meant the Foundation trilogy. Asimov wrote an awful lot of books, and more than just the one trilogy. (Also, there are more than three books in the Foundation series, but that's a separate point.)

I want to see his library

How did you learn about Wikipedia? P.S. Thank you for all of your edits on Wikipedia, I’m sure you’ve helped countless people.


Who else contributed to wikipedia since this AMA ?

How many hours per week do you spend on edits, on average?

You have to ask on reddit, this is just a meta discussion of the AMA.

I like the term "meta discussion" to characterize this comment thread. It describes and explains concisely what HN is about/does best.

He says 2 to 3 hours a day on week days. Maybe more on weekend. He has a regular job

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