This user profile is part of a series about history and geography on Wikipedia. Today, October 27th, 2014, is the 332nd anniversary of the founding of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Fulfilling your civic duty can mean a lot of different things. David Thomsen, a retired programmer and member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, sees it as his civic duty to get the facts straight on almost everything Philadelphia-related on Wikipedia.
“I want people to know who their council people are [and] who they can come to,” says Thomsen. “I see it as a role to encourage democracy, political participation [and] I think anybody looking for information should have a place to go and Wikipedia is one of the places that they can go.”
With over 160,000 edits to his name and counting, the 75-year-old Philadelphian has been an active Wikipedia editor since early 2009. Thomsen says his first Wikipedia edit was inspired by his connection to Lafayette College (he earned a degree there), and since then has continued to specialize in editing and writing pages mostly related to either Philadelphia or Pennsylvania.
“I really got started and did the first thing; an article about March and then I got into other things,” says Thomsen. “Particularly things about Philadelphia when I found [out] there was nothing [on] various things in Philadelphia or in Pennsylvania.”
One of Thomsen’s favorite edits was correcting an article that claimed that Independence Hall was a property of the United States federal government when actually it was owned by the City of Philadelphia. Thomsen also found himself correcting a rumor that fast-food chain Taco Bell, which has a bell logo, was planning on purchasing the Liberty Bell, an iconic symbol of American independence located in Philadelphia.
“It would have been unlikely to start out with, but also impossible because they thought they were buying it from the federal government also and not so, Philadelphia,” says Thomsen.
The avid Wikipedian worked as a programmer at Sunoco for 27 years and found that his experience as a web developer helped him ease into the nooks and crannies of Wikipedia.
Thomsen has written dozens of articles on Wikipedia (he lists them on his user page), and fondly remembers writing about the “First City Troop“, a unit of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and the oldest military unit in U.S. history. He wrote about how the first captain of the troop was actually Abraham Markoe, who left his position after the King of Denmark issued an edict that Danes were not to fight the British.
“Even Philadelphians may know about the First City Troop [and] know about the fighting captain, [but] not the first captain,” says Thomsen.
Thomsen believes that contributing to Wikipedia is a democratic process that does not require technical know-how.
“I think that the software [has] been organized so people are free to add, but in a disciplined way, an organized way.” says Thomsen.
Thomsen recognizes that most Wikipedia users have not edited a single article, and editing isn’t the only way to give to the Wikimedia community.
“You don’t have to become an editor, but give some money so that the whole enterprise goes along and give some respect to all those tens of thousands of editors who are busy giving up their own time, money, effort to make it better.” says Thomsen.
Profile by Yoona Ha, Communications Intern
Interview by Jacob Wilson