Building a better encyclopedia, one topic at a time

(This is the first in a series of profiles of editors who we have recently thanked for reaching their 1,000th edit to articles on English Wikipedia.)

Kawah Putih Lake in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia. (Image courtesy user Amelia guo, cc-by-sa-3.0)

Indonesia is the third largest developing country (behind China and India) and the fourth most populous country in the world – but many English-speaking people don’t know that, or anything about the country itself. This is in part because, according to Wikipedia editor Peter McCawley, Indonesia “does not explain itself to the outside world very well.” He believes that many Indonesians don’t feel comfortable contributing to the English Wikipedia, and the few articles that do exist are still too short or have gaps that should be filled. That’s what Peter is trying to change.

Peter was born in Australia but got interested in Indonesia in the 1970s. In 1972, he completed his PhD on Indonesian economics and now works as an economic adviser in Indonesia. He also volunteers for an Australian NGO that promotes the development of very poor areas in the country. He started editing Wikipedia in 2010 because he saw gaps in information that, with his expertise, could fill in.

“When I see useful text that seems to need improvement, I’m inclined to see if I can edit it a little,” he said.

“Wikipedia is an important source of information for many people. Good information is a public good. Part of my job as a university scholar and teacher is to contribute to information in areas where I have expertise,” Peter said when asked why he contributes to Wikipedia. “Further, I have personally benefitted greatly myself from the global public good that is ‘information and learning.’ I have, in a broad sense, a debt to the world of information and learning. I should repay my debt!”

Peter has improved and expanded many articles on Indonesian people, places, organizations. He has also created two new articles: Widjojo Nitisastro, an Indonesian economist, and Kawah Putih (pictured above), a volcanic crater lake on the island of Java. Other volunteer editors have come along and expanded those articles even further, adding references, copyediting, and bringing in images from Wikimedia Commons.

“It’s important to add to information on Wikipedia because lots of key people (scholars, policy makers, students, journalists, and so on) look for information on the web, and they often look at Wikipedia. It’s a pity when the information on Wikipedia is wrong or incomplete or poorly presented,” said Peter. “The world in general is likely to be a better place in all sorts of ways if people are well-informed.”

Indonesia isn’t just a place for Peter. “Indonesia is fascinating in just about every way that one might mention – society, politics, culture, economics, religion, environment, international relations, and so on,” he said. “Across the world today, around five billion people or more have decided that they don’t want to be poor any more – they want to have decent standards of living, and they want their countries to grow and to modernize. For me, Indonesia is a prism onto this remarkable change in human life on the planet. And if I can explain just a little of all of this on Wikipedia, that seems to me to be a useful thing to do.”

To get involved in improving Indonesia-related content on English Wikipedia, please visit WikiProject Indonesia, or browse all articles on Indonesia and pitch in where you can.

Maryana Pinchuk, Community Organizer, Wikimedia Foundation


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5 Comments on Building a better encyclopedia, one topic at a time

Bennylin 2 years

I share your concern Peter. We’d like to see more people involved in Indonesian Wikipedia, and Javanese Wikipedia, and dozens of other Wikipedias in the local languages of Indonesia that still in Incubator. But we’re also happy that some editors take their time to edit about Indonesian topic on English Wikipedia, and Dutch Wikipedia, and Commons, and so forth. I think Indonesia has a lot of stories to tell to the world, and Wikipedia has enabled us to share the world of the beauty of Indonesia, one story at a time.

For commenter #2, here are 2 reasons that I heard why some Indonesian editors prefer to edit on English or any other Wikipedias: 1) the articles in Indonesian Wikipedia is too few and incomplete or badly translated, or 2) some of them feel that the articles about Indonesia in Russian Wikipedia, for example, is too few, and since there are very few Russian-Indonesian bilingual, that editor feel compelled to edit in that particular Wikipedia. Those are just 2 reasons, and I believe there are many more.

Thank you for the articles you made about Indonesia. We’d like to invite you to write on Indonesian Wikipedia too, ocassionally (PS. Kawah Putih is not on id.wp yet :>)

Peter McCawley 3 years

I certainly didn’t meant to suggest that my Indonesian colleagues should not contribute to the bahasa Indonesian version of Wikipedia. Of course they should if they are so inclined and I hope they will. But Indonesia (like all countries) needs to interact effectively with the international community and Wikipedia is actually a quite important medium for that interaction. For example, many people overseas looking for some quick facts on (say) the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will look at Wikipedia. It’s therefore important that a good, impartial entry for SBY (as he is often called) is posted to Wikipedia. And, of course, it is also important that good posts be included on the bahasa Indonesia version of Wikipedia as well. Let’s hope that the bahasa Indonesia version of Wikipedia grows quickly, with high-quality content, in the next few years.

Maryana Pinchuk 3 years

This happened to be a profile of an English Wikipedia editor, but of course everyone should edit in whatever language they feel comfortable using. There are Wikipedias (not to mention sister projects like Wikiversity, Wiktionary, and Wikinews) in over 280 different languages, because our mission as a movement is for everyone in the world to have the sum of all human knowledge available to them in their own language. The Indonesian Wikipedia has over 100,000 articles, and the Javanese has close to 40,000. It would be wonderful to see those communities grow, too! :)

Me 3 years

Why should they edit English wikipedia when they have one in their own language? I find it more easier to edit in first language. Also English wikipedia is edited by everyone while others wikipedias have only native speakers.
Doesn’t everyone deserve right to have knowledge available in first language?

Leigh Thelmadatter 3 years

This is a group that en.wiki desperately needs to reach out to… immigrants/expats in non-English speaking countries who have physical and hopefully linguistic access to the countries and cultures that need work. There are many expat English teachers in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America as well as a large retirement community Americans and Canadians in Mexico which are untapped!

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