A small typographical error meant I missed marking the 10th anniversary of me becoming a Wikipedian last week. I had inadvertently written the date as 13 October, but it was actually on 3 October 2003 that I registered as Wikipedia user Paul W (thanks to fellow Londoner and Wikipedian Scott Martin for inviting me to join the ‘Ten Year Society’ and for inadvertently bringing my date error to light).
It was easy to check: every interaction I’ve had with Wikipedia has been recorded. For example, I can see my first edit was a minor correction to the article on Greenwich, and about eight minutes later I created my first article, on Greenwich Park.
I had a look back at what I created, and – as a now more-experienced Wikipedian – I cringed when I saw what I wrote. There is some imprecise and un-encyclopaedic language (“majestic” really?!), and there are no references to back up my assertions. Thankfully, it was soon being edited, expanded and improved by other Wikipedians, and I have returned to it from time to time, contributing to some of its (so far) 252 revisions.
During this 10 years, I created 394 other articles, made over 15,000 edits, and learned a lot – about Wikipedia, about editing, and about many of the subjects whose articles I’ve edited. A recent highlight was contributing to the Institution of Civil Engineers ‘editathon’ in July (post), and learning from other, even more experienced editors. Andy Mabbett, for example, helped ICE group members nominate some new articles for “Did You Know” and two of the articles gained some early prominence on the home page of the English edition of Wikipedia.
As I have previously written, I have also been involved in helping improve understanding of Wikipedia within the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and the PR profession at large (I will be doing another CIPR webinar on Wikipedia in December). When I talk about Wikipedia to PR or marketing people, I speak as an unashamedly enthusiastic Wikipedian not as a fellow professional – I note the CIPR’s best practice guidelines stress the value of becoming an active editor, perhaps contributing to articles relating to individuals’ hobbies or non-work interests. Such experience helps users to learn about Wikipedia and to appreciate the effort that goes into creating reference-quality information.
While I can’t edit some articles because of conflicts of interest, I can often use my industry knowledge to identify articles that could be improved. As well as civil engineers and related organisations, I have, for example, recently helped expand articles on building information modelling, the Electrical Contractors’ Association, the Thames Tideway Scheme, the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, and footballer Nick Powell (OK, not really work-related).
I would encourage more people to become responsible Wikipedians too and do the same. With 4.34m articles, the English edition of Wikipedia is one of the world’s greatest free repositories of information, and its continued strength will come from harnessing the expertise, energy and enthusiasm of new contributors.
Update (19 October 2013) – A further output from the ICE Editathon has, eventually, after a lot of patient editing and discussion, hit the English Wikipedia Did You Know… home page spotlight – the article about the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, and (24 October 2013) the article about Charles Manby.