Your Wikipedia Questions Answered

Wikipedia. We consider it the source of all knowledge, teachers generally consider it to be an ‘unreliable source,’ and everyone acknowledges that it’s a great starting point for any research project. But how much do we really know about Wikipedia’s structure?

The Seventh Graders recently worked with the librarians and members of the seventh grade faculty during Flex Block to talk about Wikipedia, and at the end of the period they still had many unanswered questions.

Q: How was Wikipedia started? How does it make money?

A: Officially, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger started Wikipedia on January 15, 2001.

The idea came up much earlier, however. Several people attempted to use the web to publish free encyclopedias, but the projects never really took off. Jimmy Wales and several collaborators had the idea that they could publish an online encyclopedia written by highly-qualified volunteers with a complex peer review process. It was called Nupedia. They hired a full-time editor-in-chief, Larry Sanger, to be in charge of the editing process. Unfortunately, the process was so slow that they only completed twelve articles in the first year. Then, they got the idea to use wiki technology to make it really fast and easy for anyone to edit.

Actually, Wikipedia is not a company. It is part of a nonprofit organization called the Wikimedia Foundation. The money to operate the Wikimedia Foundation comes from donations, especially from its users. In a fundraising statement that is showing up at the top of every Wikipedia page right now, they say their average donation is about $15. Wikimedia says that the money they raise goes to buy the technology they need to run the company, and to paying the 175 employees they now have on staff.

To learn more about the history of Wikipedia, check out the “History of Wikipedia” article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Wikipedia.

Q: Wikipedia now has 175 full-time employees. What do they do? Are they employees of just Wikipedia or do they work for all the Wikimedia sites? Do they edit the articles? Do the employees get paid? Or are they just volunteers?

A: The Wikimedia Foundation’s employees and contractors work in 7 different departments: The Office of the Executive Director, Engineering and Product Development (subcategories include Platform, Features, Technical Operations, Mobile, Languages, Apps, User Experience, Editor Engagement, Product, and more), Grantmaking and Programs, Fundraising, Legal and Community Advocacy, Finance and Administration, and Human Resources. As full-time employees and contractors, they do get paid. They do not edit the articles. Most of them are employed in the Engineering and Product Design department, which generally ensures that the sites run smoothly.

(Learn more: http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Staff)

Wikipedia does have an actual office for its employees (see the contact information below).

The education needed to work at Wikipedia varies by the type of job, but there are some jobs that only look for a Bachelor’s degree (four years of college), while others might prefer a Ph.D. or law degree. Some jobs want degrees in computer science, but others may want linguistics or business degrees, while yet other positions are not looking for any particular background. In all cases, Wikipedia wants individuals with a lot of hands-on experience with similar work.

Q: Are Wikipedia editors ever paid?

A: No. Paid editing (writing or editing on Wikipedia in return for money) was proposed to Wikipedia, but ultimately failed, as it presented a moral issue in the form of “conflict of interest”– because paid editing includes inserting or deleting content to the advantage of the editor’s employer or client.

(Learn more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Paid_editing_(policy) )

Q: Why are so few women editing Wikipedia?

A: You might be interested to know that the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation is, actually, a woman named Sue Gardner. On her blog, she posted a list of nine reasons why women don’t edit Wikipedia, in their own words.

Some main reasons cited are that the interface is not very user-friendly, that they are too busy, a lack of self-confidence, the feeling that the Wikipedia-verse is filled with conflict and sometimes is overtly misogynistic, and there’s also quite a bit of online sexual harrassment.

You can find the full article here: (http://suegardner.org/2011/02/19/nine-reasons-why-women-dont-edit-wikipedia-in-their-own-words/)

Q: What is Wikipedia doing to balance the gender imbalance of the editors?

A: Also from Sue Gardner’s blog– some main things Wikipedia is doing to actively encourage women to edit are: deliberately focusing recruiting efforts on women (and encouraging the current female editors to recruit other women), staging and supporting women-only activities, working to create and protect a female-friendly environment (that is, getting rid of some of the sexism that already surrounds Wikipedia), and emphasizing the social impact that editing Wikipedia can have.

Again, you can find the full article here: (http://suegardner.org/2010/11/14/unlocking-the-clubhouse-five-ways-to-encourage-women-to-edit-wikipedia/)

Q: How do wikipedia editors find topics that are not covered and ask for them to be put onto the site?

A: First: search for the topic and any related topics. If there’s absolutely nothing there, then you can create a new article. Note that only registered users (no anonymous editors) can create new articles.

Wikipedia advises against creating articles about yourself/your friends and family/ your teachers/ etc., “non-notable topics,” advertising, anything with an opinion, or any very short articles. (Wikipedia has a List of Bad Article Ideas.)

The entire process is explained here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Starting_an_article.

Q: How is Wikipedia making itself a more reliable source? Does Wikipedia check the edits that we make (for accuracy and appropriateness)? How does something get fixed if a user contributes something inaccurate or irrelevant? Do other users fix it? Is it not fixed at all?

A: Wikipedia places a ton of trust in its editing community, as it doesn’t require a name, login, or even an email address to edit. Surprisingly, as it turns out, we as a community have earned their trust pretty well. According to a study done by MIT, “We’ve examined many pages on Wikipedia that treat controversial topics, and have discovered that most have, in fact, been vandalized at some point in their history. But we’ve also found that vandalism is usually repaired extremely quickly—so quickly that most users will never see its effects…” That is to say, yes, there are some editors wreaking havoc on Wiki pages, but they are overwhelmed by others who correct their damage almost immediately.

(Learn more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia)

Q: How does Wikipedia deal with disagreements among editors?

A: Disagreement among contributors can take several forms, including:

  • People may have different ideas about a topic. When different theories are well-documented and widely accepted, an article often refers to them all. Editors can find factual ways to introduce conflicting ideas. For example, scientists have a dispute over whether octopuses can learn new skills by observing others. Currently, the article explains that the “idea [that octopuses learn by observing] is disputed by some.” (Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cephalopod_intelligence)
  • Each article has a Talk page associated with it. On that page, editors discuss questions and controversies. Editors are encouraged to work out their conflicts on the Talk page, but anyone can click on the Talk link at the top of an article and see what discussions are taking place.If an editor undoes another editor’s work on the same page three times within 24 hours, that editor will be blocked from writing on Wikipedia. This is to keep people from switching information repeatedly to reflect their own point-of-view.
  • If a highly controversial page is being edited constantly, going back and forth among two or more points-of-view, top editors may “lock” the page–meaning most people will be unable to edit it. If you are interested, you can look at Wikipedia’s list of most frequently edited pages: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Most_frequently_edited_pages

Q: How can I learn more about editing Wikipedia?

A: Wikipedia offers a lot of training in how to edit. As the organization works to create high quality information, administrators create more and more guidelines and policies to keep the process working well. If you want to learn more about editing Wikipedia (Simple or “regular”), you can start on the main Help:Editing page. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:Editing

Q: Where are Wikipedia’s headquarters located?

A: The Wikimedia Foundation is located in San Francisco. They welcome letters, emails, and faxes, and you can find contact information here: http:/wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Contact_us.

Q: What country has the most Wikipedia editors?

Most editors (20%) live in the US, followed by Germany (12%) and Russia (7%).

Researched and Written by Libby B. (’14) with some updates by Ms. Bergson-Michelson.

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