The Impact of Wikipedia: Mike Cline

Wikpedia contributor Mike Cline discusses Yellowstone, fly fishing and the value of volunteerism on Wikipedia.

Vietnam vet, 28-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Counterintelligence Officer–it’s safe to say that Mike Cline is a not a slouch. The 65-year old resident of Bozeman, Montana retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1996, and although he is busy working in a strategy consulting business, he has found time to be an active Wikipedia contributor, with over 500 articles and 37,000-plus edits.

“Wikipedia is a unique way to volunteer—it’s also a great way to learn how to read, write, solve problems, and collaborate,” he said. “It’s a free engine to practice your communication skills.”

Wikipedia also affords Cline the opportunity to expound on his two greatest passions: the outdoors and fly fishing. Growing up in Pasadena, California, Cline was nestled right up against the San Gabriel Mountains. It was there that he developed a deep love and appreciation of the great outdoors, a subject on Wikipedia that he has contributed to extensively with his writings on the history of fly fishing and Yellowstone, among others.

“Even though I was growing up in a relatively urban environment, hiking in the mountains and fishing or catching snakes was very natural to me,” he explained. “My mother introduced me to fly fishing and I’ve been tying flies since I was 13-years old. Eventually, I started buying books about fly fishing and fly fishermen, and I have a library of about 600 books of fly fishing literature. It’s a wonderful history and the perfect place to write about that is Wikipedia.

Cline explained that it’s not as popular as American football, but it has “a lot of nuance to it. Plus, it’s a wonderful escape, great exercise, and when you’re wading knee-deep trying to catch fish, it’s about as close to nature as you can get!”

Cline spends 25 to 30 days a year in Yellowstone National Park, and he has written extensively on the park’s vegetation, trails and geography. “Writing about Yellowstone in Wikipedia allows you to get into the details, the intimate details, if you will, of exactly how the park was originally explored,” he said.

“I often take the same path that the Langford-Peterson expeditions took across the Gardner River and into Yellowstone for the first time in 1870. Even today, you can stand there and look one way to the north and you see Gardner and Electric Mountain, which wasn’t named in 1870, and you stand and look south to Rescue Creek, and it looks exactly the same as it did in 1870. It’s fascinating because there’s a connection of studying the history, being able to write about it, and actually experiencing it.”

It might seem that Cline’s obsession with the outdoors would run counter to sitting in front of a computer screen typing out articles and making edits. Not so, he said. “When I was in the Air Force, they put a computer on my desk in 1983 and said, ‘Here, use this as a tool.’ I’ve been using computers as a tool ever since. Wikipedia is nothing more than an opportunity to contribute to knowledge of things that I’m interested in, and it’s via the tool of computing.”

For Cline, Wikipedia’s non-profit status is key to its mission, and he feels that being unconstrained by the binds of share price and earning statements is the only way Wikipedia can flourish. “Wikipedia’s not out there trying to build up equity that somebody owns and puts in their pocket as profit, and I think that is very liberating,” he said. “Besides, volunteerism is important in the world, and Wikipedia is a unique way to volunteer 24/7. It’s not only a way to give back, but it’s fun as well.”

Profile by Darrin Fox, Communications Intern
Interview by Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller

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