(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.)
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.”
Maryana Pinchuk, Community Organizer, Wikimedia Foundation