How to edit Wikipedia like a rebel

Hands holding a jigsaw globe
Category: Reading

Don’t just read Wikipedia – edit Wikipedia! Ahead of her live-streamed event during the #BookWeekScotland Digital Festival (21 November, 11am-noon, Facebook Live), Delphine Dallison, wikimedian in residence at the Scottish Library and Information Council, gives us an insight into why we need more people to actively contribute to Wikipedia. Be a rebel, get involved!


Be an activist of open knowledge

For a lot of people, Wikipedia has become part of every day life online. If you’re looking for a fact or a piece of information you’ll often turn to Google, and if it’s on Wikipedia, it’ll be one of the first results that pop ups. We’ve become so familiar with the website (it’s one of the top 5 websites most visited worldwide) we often forget the ethos that launched the project in the first place.

When Jimmy Wales first thought up this online encyclopaedia which anyone could edit, this was his vision: “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.” It’s a lofty goal, and as Wikimedian in Residence at the Scottish Libraries and Information Council, it can feel a little intimidating at times. However, everyone who volunteers on editing Wikipedia knows it is always a work in progress - that helps to take the pressure off.

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge

What I find helpful is to focus on the gaps that I can fill within my area of expertise; the under-represented areas of Wikipedia. A lot of people don’t realise that Scotland is one of those under-represented areas of the online encyclopaedia, which is why Wikimedia UK, the UK chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, has been leading a number of initiatives to address that issue in the past few years, including my residency.

In April of this year, Wikimedia UK appointed Sara Thomas in a new permanent post as Scotland Programme Coordinator to help develop a stronger wiki community of editors and contributors. The more diverse a community we can build, the better we can ensure that Scotland’s history and rich heritage are given proper representation on a global stage.


Share what you know

A lot of people feel a little intimidated at the idea of contributing to Wikipedia at first, but we all have a small area of knowledge where we have some expertise. My background is an artist and a designer, so I focus on improving the coverage of Scottish artists on Wikipedia. I often find that they don’t have a page or that their pages could be improved, and I’d like to think that I’m helping people discover new artists that they wouldn’t have otherwise known about.

When I’m working with public libraries we focus on local history projects, as they often have unique collections covering their local area and those are projects that their local library users can get involved in.

I like to think that I’m helping people discover new artists that they wouldn’t have otherwise known about.

In September, we also encouraged library users to participate in the Wiki Loves Monuments competition to crowdsource as many good quality, open license images as possible of public monuments and listed buildings. We hit a record number this year of 4,374 images contributed for Scotland and those are all now available for anyone to use under an open license on Wikimedia Commons. It’s a great way of contributing to Wikipedia if you don’t want to just dive in to editing an article.


Help bridge the gender gap

Another area of under-representation on Wikipedia is the history of women. This is a well-documented issue for the Wikimedia community, which we are actively trying to address.

Out of all the biographies on English Wikipedia, only 17% are biographies of women, so we know that we still have a long way to go in order to achieve gender parity. However, that issue is not unique to Wikipedia, but rather reflect the gender bias present in the world that we currently live in.

Historically, women’s history has been regarded as less important. It’s been recorded in secondary sources. And where women have been recorded as notable, the emphasis was often placed on the fact that they were the daughter or wife of such and such notable man rather than for their own accomplishments.

Out of all the biographies on English Wikipedia, only 17% are biographies of women

There is a lot of work to be done to counteract those historical biases and to ensure that we don’t perpetuate them in the future. WikiProject Women in Red is a Wikipedia initiative dedicated to improving the coverage of women’s history on Wikipedia. The name derives from the fact that editors will often create red internal links on Wikipedia to flag up notable topics that don’t currently have a page on Wikipedia. Once the page is created, the link will automatically turn to the blue internal wiki-links, which we are all accustomed to. Women in Red specialise in creating list of red links for missing pages of notable women and turning them blue.

Dr Jess Wade has had a lot of coverage in the press recently as she has spent a year creating new page every day for a notable women in STEM after being inspired at an editathon.

As part of the SLIC residency, I also regularly run editathons focused on improving content about notable Scottish women, including a recent event on the Isle of Skye in October during which we focused specifically on creating new pages for notable women from the island. These types of projects can help bring to light fascinating historical events and new role models for young women.

Why not join WikiProject Women in Red and help us make the internet a little less sexist?


Shine a light on important issues

We often talk about a feedback loop between Wikipedia articles, Google search results and the media. After all, I’m sure we’ve all been guilty at some point or another of thinking a topic that isn’t covered on Wikipedia can’t be that important or well-known.

Rather than reinforcing those cognitive biases, why not take advantage of them instead? After all, if a topic is important and deserves better coverage in the press and the media, then creating a page for it on Wikipedia will help take advantage of Google’s well-tuned algorithms and push it to the forefront of any search engine results.

That’s exactly what we hoped for when at the start of the year, Wikimedia UK hosted a BRAVE:Edit event across venues in England and Scotland with the support of Amnesty International to improve the coverage of human rights activists on Wikipedia.

A lot of the focus of the work that Amnesty International does puts pressure on governments that infringe the human rights of protesters and activists. Creating pages on Wikipedia for these activists helps gather the information in a free and accessible place, open to everyone.

During the course of the BRAVE editathon, 101 editors took part and 89 new articles were created and 447 articles were improved.

Since May, these articles have had over 5.9 million views, which not only demonstrates the importance of those topics, but also the interest that they generate on a global stage.

Some of these articles have also since been translated into multiple languages, making the information even more widely accessible. I worked on an article for the land activist Tep Vanny in Cambodia who is fighting to preserve the land on which her family and her community live. It was heartening to see that at the same time as I was creating her article on English Wikipedia, other editors were also creating articles for her on the Spanish and the Dutch Wikipedia.

So why not be a rebel and do your bit to support human rights activists by creating a page for them on Wikipedia? And don't forget to tune in to my Book Week Scotland Digital Festival on Facebook Live at 11am on 21 November. 

Delphine Dallison

Delphine Dallison is wikimedian in residence at the Scottish Library and Information Council. Catch Delphine on during the #BookWeekScotland Digital Festival on 21 November, 11am-noon on Facebook Live

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