I did not begin my Wikipedia-editing journey for altruistic reasons. I was in a business meeting, bored out of my mind, thinking about my then-upcoming visit to ExxonMobil’s annual shareholder meeting in Dallas where I would present HRC’s shareholder resolution to amend Exxon’s non-discrimination policy. (If you care about LGBT issues and own or rent a car, buy your gas elsewhere). I’m responsible for updating a lot of our website’s information, so it occurred to me during this fit of boredom that perhaps I should see what the good book of Wikipedia says about my favorite corporate mega-behemoth.
Although Exxon’s entry was rather thorough, it turned out that I actually had something to clarify about the company’s stance on same-sex couples. So, a little warily, I clicked the “edit this page” at the top of the screen for the very first time in my life, created my username/login information, and got started. Two hours later (still bored in the meeting), I was still gleefully plugging away, having jumped naturally to domestic partner benefits and same-sex relationship recognition in the United States.
I’ve been meaning to write this post ever since, but kept getting caught up in the best way to explain how to edit Wikipedia pages. But, thankfully, I don’t have to explain it for you — Gina at Lifehacker did an unsurprisingly great job back in 2005. I’ll say briefly, though, if you’ve ever had to create web pages by hand using HTML code, Wikipedia is much easier. That’s not to say that Wikipedia will make sense to everyone off the bat, but it’s not rocket science by any means.
So what am I getting at? A few things:
- Tons of people use Wikipedia as a starting point, and the pages are often the first results in search listings (which came first?).
- If you’re fascinated by anything in particular — maybe it’s a hobby or maybe it’s relevant to your job — you probably know enough about something to be able to contribute to a Wikipedia entry.
- If you read entries on Wikipedia, you’re benefiting from someone else (probably many others) having contributed something for you.
- If you’re working for a cause, why not make sure Wikipedia’s information about your cause is as accurate (and balanced) as possible?
So it’s been about nine months since my first, crazed day of Wikipedia-editing. I don’t go to Wikipedia every day to make edits, for sure. But every once in a while, usually when I’ve just finished working on a new issue alert for work, I’ll check out related pages on Wikipedia and see if I can add any useful information. I generally find that the most interesting (and neutral) things I can add to Wikipedia aren’t my final products, but rather aspects of the background research that took some time and effort to find. Why make someone else scour for the same things I did when I can just put it out there for everyone to do with it what they will?
I’m perhaps being a little vague here. This is the challenge of writing a personal blog when the line between my personal and professional lives is hardly well-defined (or, in fact, barely existent). But I promise you, it’s been extremely gratifying to see other Wikipedia editors improving upon my contributions (or arguing over things like whether they’re appropriate for the particular entry I’ve edited as opposed to being an entry of their own).
So, in closing, I urge you to try it out yourself. The next time you think “wow, this entry really should mention something about X here,” go ahead and click it: “edit this page.”