Hi, I’m Anthony, known as User:AGK on the many volunteer-written Wikimedia projects. Last week marked my fifth year as an administrator on the English Wikipedia, and my sixth year as a contributor. I was asked to write this post to give my thoughts on what it means to me to be a long-term contributor to projects like Wikipedia, and what I hope to see happen in the coming years.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for our project today is how to convert more readers into contributors. To me, the most important group to reach, and the one I will discuss a little in my short post here, are the internet users who have not yet discovered the fascinating concept of the “free encyclopedia that anybody can edit”. This concept is embodied in precisely those terms at the top of every Wikipedia article, beneath the article’s title. But there are only 25 Wikipedia editors for every *million* speakers of the English language, and Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in the world. Evidently, we need to do more to get more of our readers to give a little back, too.
The basic premise of Wikipedia is fantastic: it is a website that any person can improve upon or add to. This collaborative model had me fascinated from the start, and, I am sure, has done the same for thousands of others. (If you are new to the Wikimedia Foundation’s projects, or never thought about where those millions of articles came from, then the briefest summary of the Wikimedia family would be that it is a volunteer-written and not-for-profit group of projects that aims to codify the world’s knowledge.)
I joined Wikipedia many years ago, when it was a different project, as many early contributors found it: by stumbling across an article entry through a Google search. I managed to add some information (all of which had to be ‘translated’ into the proper format by an experienced contributor, of course) and hit “save”. When I saw that my change was immediately visible on a page searchable by over half of the world, I was hooked. I registered an account, which I use to this day, and made a number of other alleged “improvements” (which more experienced editors also had to correct!).
I eventually found our help pages, and learned how to properly use the site. And whilst things are much easier now for new editors because of our better editing interface and help pages, Wikipedia is still a complex place; this is something that we must work on if we are to turn more readers into contributors. Moreover, many readers who do manage to edit a few pages or correct a few mistakes simply get bored and leave. We do not place enough emphasis on WikiProjects, Portals, and categories – all of which help to co-ordinate efforts at improving articles within related topics.
If you want to give your time to anything, then Wikipedia surely is a good choice. I continue to contribute for these reasons: Wikipedia is a fantastic project with a mission I genuinely believe is of value to humanity. Much of my work, as someone who is now an experienced editor, is in the field of resolving disputes about article content, which is an essential component of Wikipedia because as all decisions on the project are made by consensus—that is, by majority agreement of whichever editors have chosen to work on the article in question. I am part of the Wikipedia Mediation Committee, which provides formal mediation for disputes about article content that have not been resolved by simple discussion (as most disputes are on Wikipedia) or by earlier steps in the dispute-resolution process.
For those of you who do not know much about mediation on Wikipedia, I will briefly explain. Dispute-resolution works on a “carrot and stick” model: whereas the Arbitration Committee is the ‘stick’ (in that it hears evidence, then drafts a binding decision that adjudicates the dispute with a degree of finality), the Mediation Committee is the ‘carrot’ (in that it assigns a mediator to a dispute, who then hears the arguments of all the parties and then helps them draft a mutually acceptable compromise).
The Mediation Committee complements the work of the other mediation body on Wikipedia. Both are vital components of Wikipedia, and perpetually need more editors to work as neutral mediators. If you are a Wikipedia editor with a neutral, balanced temperament, please consider volunteering for the MedCab; anybody can! If you are experienced in dispute-resolution and have a few hours a week free, then consider submitting a nomination to the Mediation Committee. In either case, you’d be making a substantial contribution to the writing of the encyclopedia.
Wikipedia attracts contributors of almost every country in the world, and of every age. The project is a great way to work alongside others and do something genuinely good—for two minutes, or two hours, and for one night a week, or seven. If you’re reading this and you aren’t already part of the project, then please join. I’m glad I did, and I’m sure you will be too.