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Ask HN: How many of you contribute to Wikipedia?
33 points by spocked on Oct 20, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments
The "Wikipedia for Sale" post on the front page made me wonder how many people on HN actually contribute to Wikipedia. I have never, but am interested in figuring out why. I love Wikipedia and would love to contribute by keeping spam away and stopping PR companies from being in control.

I'm a long time lurker, with a recently created account. This would have made more sense as a poll. Can any admin change this Ask HN into a poll with the following data points - everyday (daily contributer), once a week, once a month, few times, never




I've tried on a three occasions to contribute to wikipedia - Two occasions where I've found articles with incorrect data based off of poor sources, and once to correct a minor grammatical issue, with all of the articles in question being small and non-political in nature. Every time I was promptly reverted. In the former's case I always provided sources for my updated info, which were completely ignored the first occasion, and on the second occasion the article was later edited to include both pieces of info, despite clear scientific consensus for the new. In the latter's case I was simply reverted without explanation.

I really didn't feel like fighting the reverts, and I suppose I probably won't edit any more pages. It really seems like a contributor-hostile environment.


I'm curious to see the change you made, since I've done the same thing hundreds of times (adding or changing an article and giving a reference) and I haven't noticed random reversion.


I considered including that in this post, but it would have the net effect of tying several of my online accounts to my real name, and I'd like to avoid that. Sorry!


I understand, I don't even like linking my pseudo-anonymous accounts across different sites. Eventually you'd give away enough information that you could be easily identified anyway.


Well, let's see...

I submitted an article about one of the most important writers of my country, and it was deleted because it is apparently irrelevant. Years later someone submitted a stub, and it remains like that until today.

I fixed a dead link on the Kalman Filters page, and the change was promptly reverted because apparently linking to youtube is not allowed. So now only I have the correct link. Oh, well.

I contributed to the discussion regarding the statistics for rape in the US (the "1 in 6" figure doesn't hold), but the discussion went nowhere, as expected.

The only thing I've actually managed to fix was a reference to "Les Miserables" taking place during the French Revolution (it doesn't) and the occasional typo, but nothing really important.


I've fixed typos and then they got reverted back.


Thats the sort of thing that would definately make me loose hope.


Maybe it was a US vs British spelling thing?


Looks like your Kalman Filter change got put back: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Kalman_filter&act...


I've contributed to some articles on string search algorithms. Most of my work has gone into the Boyer-Moore article, which has seen only minor edits since I rewrote it two years ago. There are many pages on algorithms that need some love, and it's a great way to gain an in-depth understanding of the algorithm in question. I haven't edited anything in a while though, mostly due to lack of compulsion.

For math and computer science topics there doesn't seem to be any of the edit warring or toxicity you hear so much about in other areas. Given HN's audience I would recommend starting out by adopting the page of your favorite algorithm.


I only ever correct errors or add extra detail. I've never created an article or written anything substantial, mostly because the risk of having substantial work removed because I didn't "do it right" is extremely unappealing to me (and I could spend the time on my own business or content).

I think you have to be extremely intrinsically motivated or community minded (both good things, of course!) to contribute significantly there because the only reward seems to be happy about a job well done.


I've been an active editor since 2011, primarily on the topics of computational biology and African American history.[1] I started by inserting citations, then by incorporating a couple of term papers I had collecting dust, before finally graduating to major rewrites of (relatively) popular articles.

Thankfully, in computational biology articles PR flacks and wiki-lawyers are at a minimum. The extent of my experience with the former extends to over-enthusiastic academics promoting their particular software. I recommend it to students, not only as a way to get some use out of old term papers, but also as a way to sharpen one's writing skills. Because it's an important vehicle for outreach there's the potential for recognition as well.[2]

I'd have to say that one of the highlights of my editing career has been receiving an email from the descendant of an article's subject thanking me for telling their story.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Estevezj

[2]: http://www.ploscompbiol.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fj...


I contribute to Wikipedia.

User page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dllu

I've started a few articles on niche topics and created many pictures/animations.


Those are some really nice animations and diagrams! What do you use to make the 2d vector graphics? Inkscape?


Some of them are generated using my own C++ programs. For example, the series on Monte Carlo localization (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Robot_localizati...) is simply too tedious to be created by hand. The C++ program source code generating the nine pictures can be found at https://gist.github.com/dllu/7076603

As for the diagram of the teletherapy capsule (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Teletherapy_Capsule_3.svg), I wrote out the SVG file by hand in a text editor. Extreme boredom sometimes makes one do that kind of thing.


I fix typos or obvious errors when I see them (mostly grammatical rather than factual). Beyond that, the politics is a bit of a turn-off and most of the articles on subjects I know a thing or two about are well-maintained. I guess my knowledge isn't very unique... :(


I don't make a hobby out of editing, but when I'm reading an article in a field I know a little about and I come across an egregious error, I usually edit it, or leave an edit request if the page is protected.

I do the same thing for articles outside my areas of knowledge if the error is particularly galling and unambiguously incorrect.

Because I use wikipedia quite a lot, I'd say I leave an edit about twice a month.

Having said that, much, much more often I encounter a minor error that I don't have the time to investigate. In this kind of case I think "boy, I bet the source doesn't actually back that up", but it doesn't seem important enough to break my workflow to look into.


I've been kicking around there for a few years. Mostly writing about military history. :) my advice is to avoid the dramas and pick a nice quiet topic area to contribute in.


Edited frequently about 2002-2004. About Israel. At that time, Wikipedia was so young and sparsely populated that it was still possible to make great advances on such a contentious topic despite hugely different point of views.

Then the trolls came, pov pushers and various ideologues who thought that the best way to push their view on wikipedia was to make "the other sides" editors be as miserable as possible. People that don't really care about history or facts or even being right as long as their side wins.

So every edit or addition became stuck in discussions on talk pages or the mailing list. Lots of slurs about editors being anti-semites, racism etc.. Not only from trolls but also from admins. Thing is, when you want to write stuff you're at a distinct disadvantage versus those who likes to delete it. It can take you days to research a single paragraph while people who don't like you just have to spend a few minutes coming up with a reason why it's off-topic for the article, biased or something else. Then the ones with the most political clout in the Wikipedia establishment wins.

You also can't start a fresh on Wikipedia. If you edited about Israel (or Palestine for that matter) and upset some people, they will follow you around and try to find reasons why your edits suck even in totally different topic areas.

It's incredibly frustrating experience and huge amount of work. So you'll ask yourself what's the point? Unless you're a fanatic the answer is "absolutely no fucking point" so you let the extremists have their way and spend your time with more fullfilling hobbies!


Not that you're wrong, but it should be no suprise when you engaged in edit wars on one of the most touchy subjects on earth.


That's generally been my experience, that editing contentious topics on Wikipedia is roughly average for the topic, rather than having any strongly Wikipedia-specific characteristics. Sometimes better than elsewhere, sometimes worse.

I've been on committees in academia to co-write overviews of subjects in which there is some contentious debate, even in the computer-science sense of political rather than real-world politics, and they have not all been straightforward or enjoyable experiences. If 10 people have very different views of a subject, where several of them hold the views strongly, and we are collaboratively supposed to write a neutral overview of a topic, it takes a lot of work and negotiation to reach any kind of agreement.

I suspect if you were to select 10 experts in the I/P conflict from across the ideological spectrum, and put them in a room for a week, asking them to replace a few of these Wikipedia articles with better ones, you would not get anything better, if anything at all. You might get some fistfights!


Yes, but I've substantially reduced my editing over the last 3 years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Gwern / http://www.gwern.net/Wikipedia%20resume / http://www.gwern.net/tags/Wikipedia


I've contributed since 2006 (under a different username than here), with several peak years, totaling 14k edits so far. I'm an inclusionist who insists on good reliable sourcing for extraordinary claims, and who frequently defends articles from deletion by adding obvious sources (or which would be obvious if the deletionists ever bothered to look). The couple dozen articles I've written have been sourced well enough not to be nominated for deletion or attacked in any significant way. I've also helped out over the years on the #en-wikipedia-help IRC channel. I'm a http://enwp.org/WP:Wikignome and anti-PR activist, and I'm proud of (but a little jealous I missed out on) the recent investigation of and purge of the Wiki-PR infestation.


I was a pretty active editor in the early days, mostly building out articles on Jazz musicians that were particularly stubby.

I had a watchlist of pages I cared about and everything. I gave up as my personal life became more interesting.

I also had a knack of finding movies in the Public Domain and getting good image captures for their photos. Photos of Charlie Barnett and Count Basie are two examples that still exist. The photo of Paulette Goddard (which I'm the most proud of) did not survive on the English language wikipedia (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/PauletteG...)

Now, if I edit something, it's a typo, or something stupid (akin to "George Washington had X-ray vision.")


I generally don't contribute, because the rules are incredibly complicated and I don't really care for them.

Recently I stumbled onto an article with a [citation needed] after watching a video that (I suppose) would have been the perfect citation for it (I mean a mustached retired high school teacher, speaking about the old times, that's the best source you can get!).

Hell broke loose, the doc for video citation is intractable, so I wanted to put the link on the talk page for someone with knowledge to do it, but youtube is banned in text. So my wikipedia career in on hold until my motivation crosses a certain threshold. It's not beginner friendly, and i don't really care about their editing procedure (it's mostly based on the scientific one which is bogus too).

If someone cares, it's on White Lead talk page.


I correct errors and flag missing sources when I see them but nothing more than that. The bigger issues I've seen would require a lot more time to fix. Given all the terrible experiences I've heard with admins I'm not willing to spend that time just to have it reverted.


I've been a contributor since 2010 [1]. My first contribution was to create the NuGet package manager article [2]. Since then I mostly fix typo's, undo vandalism, fix or delete dead links and other wee odds and sods.

I avoid controversial topic stuff because I just don't have the time or energy to argue the toss about whether something should be in the wiki or about the content of a wiki article.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Teh_klev

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuget


I used to contribute for a few years, around 2003–2005. I largely stopped because the amount of ideology and trolling is just too much to bother. I see Wikipedia as a failed community – there is a strong bureaucracy very strong groupthink and everything that falls outside that is often met with resistance, outlash and deletionism. Also, what bjourne says in https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6584940


Been an editor for quite a while---mostly to correct things. Could be typos, factual errors, errors of omission, normal editor kind of stuff for those categories I know well enough to do the job. I've rarely been involved in a disagreement and as I remember it all of those were resolved peaceably :) Funny that you should ask this as I just did an edit on the 4th Infantry page a few hours ago. You kind of have to be a little bit OCD for this kind of stuff, but as I am, no problem!


I edited quite a lot in the early days, gave up after an administrator decided to wiki-lawyer me to death on the C++ page (he/she seemed to think that C++ should be defined as "things that g++ accepts"). Realised it was a battle I would never win.

Now I occasionally edit very minor articles if I look at them, but never anything that gets more than an edit a month, as such changes will be swallowed up and spit out fairly quickly, in my experience.


I anonymously contributed mostly to automotive pages, and mostly for the Polish versions. I found everything in English got reverted, in Polish the vast part holded up (even a link to my own on-topic website). Probably regional versions aren't that nazi as the main one, although I've seen crazy discussions on every subject even mildly touching politics, for obvious reasons (some zealots are just ridiculous).


I think it varies a bit; the German Wikipedia is actually considerably more strict on inclusion criteria than the English Wikipedia, but others are less strict.


Maybe. I always avoided getting into 'somebody is wrong on the internet' over touchy subjects, rather filled in technical data or trivia on my hobby topics or more often niche wiki sites (not wikipedia.org). Sometimes I regret the lost street-cred of doing it anon.


The extent of my contributions are purely financial. I'm still waiting for the day that they will announce Bitcoin as a donation method. I email them every year to ask if they will accept it.

In terms of edits and content, I'm with the others, I'm reluctant to get involved due to all of the moderation and politics involved. I find many of them can be very arrogant especially when you point out that they are wrong.


I've been a contributor to Wikipedia for a few years. I mostly do small corrections but occasionally make an article or vastly improve an article.

My most significant wiki-creation is my Peltier element diagram (which explains how to read Peltier element IDs.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Peltier_IDs_explained.svg


W00t w00t. >2K edits over nearly 10 years. I contribute in spurts around topics I know things about that don't have articles yet.


W00t indeed! +1 to you :)


I've written a few articles for Wikipedia, and also fix vandalism occasionally. The only problem i have is when i try to create an article for a product or company. People always think that they are biased, which isn't a bad thing since the Wiki-PR came about. But it gets very irritating when the article is not biased, but still gets marked as such.


For me Wikipedia is the second most valuable resource on the web after Google. I donate $30 every year without hesitation.


I've donated $10 once or twice. Feels good to support it! Too many people take it for granted.


I contributed fairly regularly during the early days of the site, but these days I contribute rarely -- mostly to make minor factual corrections or add sources. I haven't run into much of the site's famed editorial bureaucracy but what little I have doesn't encourage me to contribute more.


i used to contribute. But now I don't. Too many times my edits were changed back.

People want their stupid links on the site and they're plastered everywhere. In the future, the first thing you'll read about Leonardo da Vinci is that he came in 8th place in your Time Magazine Gold Special Genius Award with a link to the Time Magazine website. Of course in the fine print you'll find out that the award was decided by readers' votes.

You'll see this trend when you look at British people on wikipedia like Tim Berners Lee who was ranked number 1 in greatest living geniuses in 2007 by of course a british paper. A few years ago, this was mentioned in the first paragraph of the wikipedia article.

The future of wikipedia is the largest pile of spam on the internet.


i once tried to improve an explanation of some physical process and was criticised for adding "original research". i have no idea how explaining something in terms of basic physics is "research", but that ended my wikipedia career.


Well.. I do fix errors in existing articles when I find out one. Yesterday I've fixed two. The only time that I tried to submit article I failed because I leave it to do the next day, but someone was very fast and did it at midnight.


I've done a little bit of light editing, mostly fixing or adding links and correcting the occasional typo. Probably averages to once or twice per year.


I mostly correct typos or small inaccuracies, but I've occasionally expanded articles on niche topics that I know very well (such as my high school).


I can only do minor edits in niche pages, other pages are already quite full or simply above my head. My account is also new, maybe 1 year.


I donate money when they ask (about $5 each time) and I correct typos about 2-3 times per year (as I see them).


I do fairly regularly, since about 2003. I used to be very involved in meta-Wikipedia stuff in the early days (policy, mailing lists, meetups, dispute-arbitration, etc.), but sort of drifted away from that once it got more professionalized, and had a Foundation set up and such.

Now I mostly write short (~2-10 paragraphs) articles on subjects that don't have articles. I usually start from a good source, like an encyclopedia of scientists, or a book on 18th-century Scandinavian art, and look at what it covers that Wikipedia doesn't yet. Then I pick one of those things, look on Google Books/Scholar for additional sources (it's ideal to have at least 2 sources for an article), and write a short summary of what I've found on the subject.

A different kind of editing, which I do mostly as a kind of "don't have to think too much" unwinding that I find enjoyable somehow, is various stuff from a long list of filing/curation/sorting tasks that always need to be done. For example, take something from the category listing the thousands of articles that could/should have lat/long coordinates added but don't yet [1], and see if I can find its coordinates (on OpenStreetMap, on official websites, etc.).

Another useful low-key thing to do is to pick some articles that you know something about or have an interest in, but which are less popular (not hugely popular articles like [[Barack Obama]] that already have many editors), and add them to your Watchlist. If you then check the Watchlist periodically for edits to those articles, you can be part of the distributed tiny communities curating the more obscure parts of Wikipedia. This can be sometimes just be noticing when someone makes a questionable edit (whether spam or otherwise). But it can also be positive attention, e.g. if another editor asks a question on the Talk page proposing a change to an article or questioning part of it or asking if something they added is ok, you'll see that on your Watchlist and might have something to weigh in with, which makes the parts of the encyclopedia you're paying attention to feel like less of a ghost town (it can be frustrating when you comment on a less-popular article and literally nobody answers for months... the opposite of the problem you get in really contentious parts of the encyclopedia).

A final really easy thing to do, and probably Wikipedia's most famous cultural export, is to add {{citation needed}} if you run across a sentence making a claim that seems like it really should be backed up, but doesn't seem to be cited anywhere in the vicinity. Even better to find a source and add <ref>Source</ref>, but tagging as citation-needed is still helpful. This is not only for claims that you think are dubious or wrong, since even likely correct claims should have a reference where readers can verify.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Articles_missing_geoco...


17,558 edits since 2003.


nice! i broke 10k a few years back, but haven't touched it much since the [[citation needed]] brigade took over.




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