(This video is part of a series for this year’s Wikimedia Foundation fundraiser. You can support Wikipedia and free knowledge by contributing at donate.wikimedia.org. You can also view this video on YouTube.)

Gereon Kalkuhl discussing his contributions to Wikipedia

“When I write, I learn at the same time, and learning is what interests me in life,” said Gereon Kalkuhl, an active contributor and administrator on the German Wikipedia. Kalkuhl also contributes to the English, Portuguese, Polish, and Swedish language sites. Suffice it to say his background in translating comes in quite handy.

From insects to mayors to chess players, the 44-year old German keeps adding to the sum of all human knowledge, one edit at a time. Active since 2006, Kalkuhl was surprised at the amount of collaboration and discussion with other Wikipedia editors when he started contributing.

“When you engage a certain topic, other people will contact you, people that share the same passion for the subject matter,” Kalkuhl explained. “I found this very nice. When I was writing articles on insects, professors of entomology were approaching me, and then the knowledge starts to go back and forth. It’s really amazing when you meet someone halfway around the world who is as invested and interested in the same subject as you and you get to collaborate with them.”

“What they all have in common is they’re curious people. Not only that, they want to share this knowledge,” he added.

Kalkuhl feels that the average person might appreciate Wikipedia more if they knew about the behind-the-scenes machinations that allow the site to thrive. When he started out, he said he had no idea. Like many people, Kalkuhl assumed a cadre of computer programmers and, well, not “normal people,” were the ones helping to keep Wikipedia a trusted source of knowledge.

“Almost everybody uses Wikipedia. They might complain about it, they might even hate it, but they still end up using it. So people should be interested in how it works,” he said. “They would probably gain more of an appreciation for what Wikipedia actually is and how it functions so well. One thing that most people are not aware of is that there’s very active quality control. People are really scanning what new articles come up, and if it doesn’t reach a certain quality requirement of what an article is supposed to look like, they’re listing it, they’re tagging it, or they’re trying to improve it.”

Like anything else, Wikipedia isn’t perfect. However, Kalkuhl illustrates that the perfect should never be the enemy of the good, especially when it comes to a free online encyclopedia.

“Every social media platform has trolls and folks who just want to disturb the peace. Sometimes drastic measures must be taken and these people have to be blocked from using Wikipedia. But that’s the price we pay for an open lexicon where everybody can contribute,” he said. “Wikipedia is an amazing model—volunteers are contributing and it’s working—people are doing it. They’re willing to spend time and make it better for everyone because it’s really in our best interest to share this knowledge with everybody on the planet.”

Perhaps Kalkuhl can appreciate what goes on behind the scenes of Wikipedia a bit more because of another one of his passions: he has been an extra in 50 movies, working with the likes of David Cronenberg and Tom Tykwer.

“It’s not so special,” he said humbly. “I’m just an extra, you know, but it’s fun to work for a couple of days on a set and see how the directors and actors work. I find the whole thing fascinating because you see so many movies, but when you see how it’s actually done, you get a much deeper understanding of the film. Sometimes it’s like a holiday in time too—depending on the movie you can pretend to be in the 1870s and you’re wearing a costume and the atmosphere of that time is all around you—it’s so much fun!”

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