This Spring saw a deluge of Wikipedia edit-a-thon events. Spurred partially by outrage over Amanda Filipacci’s New York Times blog post that Wikipedia editors had been quietly moving American women novelists from the “American Novelists” category to “American Women Novelists” subcategory, numerous groups decided to organize events to rewrite Wikipedia and address its systemic biases. These included the #tooFEW hackathon, organized as part of the THATCamp Feminisms unconferences, and the #GWWI Global Women Write-In on Wikipedia , organized by Postcolonial Digital Humanities (#DHPoco).
Given that the average Wikipedia editor is a college-educated, 30 year old, computer savvy man who lives in the United States or Western Europe, it is unsurprising that the online encyclopedia has its own unconscious ideological leanings. Indeed, Wikimedia itself is interested in trying to rectify this by increasing participation on the site by diverse communities. Since these spring events, I have been approached by a number of people who are interested in organizing their own edit-a-thons both for students and faculty, and want to find out some tips and best practices. Here are my thoughts on what you need for an in-person edit-a-thon:
- A group of people willing to commit to editing Wikipedia, a room, computers and a working internet connection. It may seem silly, but all you really need for a Wikipedia edit-a-thon is that simple.
- Food. Always helpful to encourage people to attend; also helps keep morale going as you move along.
- Introductory Resources on Editing Wikipedia. There are some useful beginning resources for new Wikipedia editors, including training for students using Wikipedia and for Wikipedia ambassadors.
- A helpful resource is the Wikipedia TeaHouse, set up by Sarah Stierch (@sarahstierch), which is a welcoming place for new Wikipedia editors to ask questions.
- I’ve also written a few introductory ProfHacker posts that can be easily adapted to both your publicity needs, and ideas about what to do during your event.
- An Experienced Wikipedia Editor who is available to troubleshoot problems. This is really helpful as editing Wikipedia is not immediately intuitive to most new users.
- You don’t necessarily need a resident Wikipedian to be there in person (although it’s preferable). Virtual help may be available. If you’re using Wikipedia with your students, you may be able to find a Wikipedia Ambassador who can provide face-to-face or virtual Wikipedia support and training.
- If your event focuses on women of color or LGBT people around the U.S. or the world, Roopika Risam (@roopikarisam) and I may be available to support your event via the Postcolonial Digital Humanities Rewriting Wikipedia Project (#RWP), or find someone who can. So let us know if you do! In addition, Adrianne Wadewitz (@wadewitz) served as the resident Wikipedian for the #tooFEW event as well as the UCLA meeting of #GWWI, and might be available for edit-a-thon events on women and gender in Wikipedia.
- A Virtual Space for Troubleshooting. A virtual chatroom, tended to by experienced Wikipedians, will be useful for people who need troubleshooting.
- During #GWWI, Roopika and I used Twitter and the #GWWI hashtag to facilitate troubleshooting. People who require more private conversations might be interested in testing out Chatzy, which was used during #tooFEW.
- Academic Citations/References. Wikipedia editors like to see citations from “reliable” sources (which include peer-reviewed articles, magazines, encyclopedias and what would generally be suitable for most academic papers). So ask your participants to bring along a paper that they are working on or have published, as the list of references in that paper will be very helpful for establishing the verifiability of their entry. A good portion of the time for creating a good Wikipedia entry is usually spent on finding these references to back up the points in the entry, and having a list on hand is very useful. Also helpful: check out Wikipedia’s guidelines on No Original Research and Notability.
Ultimately, organizing a Wikipedia edit-a-thon is fun, rewarding, and not very difficult to put together. We hope that you’ll think about organizing one in the future. Let us know in the comments if you have any other suggestions for organizing an edit-a-thon!
Rewriting Wikipedia image taken from Postcolonial Digital Humanities (#DHPoco).