Who Writes Wikipedia?

Ask the world’s biggest encyclopedia who its author is and it will proudly inform you: you are. But do you edit? We don’t, at least not regularly.. so who actually edits Wikipeda? And whilst we’re on the subject, how does the internet’s one-stop shop for knowledge actually work? As it turns out, Wikipedia’s community is much tighter and more complex than we know.

24,407,100 people hold the mantle of ‘Wikipedian’ (or ‘editor’ if you prefer), a title earned by simply registering an account. You don’t have to register to make edits though, so really the number is much greater. Bur far from being the work of everyone, of this proud group fewer than 150,000 regularly contribute edits.

Astonishingly, research by Wikipedia suggests that an incredible 50% of the edits to the site are made by a mere 500 users.

So who are these hardcore Wiki-warriors? A particularly thorough article catalogues plenty of information about the average editor:

  • Male (84% of the population)
  • American (20%) or German (12%)
  • 22-29 years old (26%)
  • Have, or are working towards a degree (49%)
  • Edit most during the North American school summer
  • Are naturally introverted in the real world
  • Believes knowledge should be freely available and like volunteering it
  • Finds editing fun

Interestingly, although women represent only 16% of users, they’re far more likely to rise the ranks to the level of administrator than men. Administrators (or Janitors), the noble few who ‘take up the mop‘ (in Wiki parlance), act as guardians, wielding special technical abilites such as banning troublesome users and protecting vandalism hotspots.

Wikipedia’s top editor, 33-year old User Koavf from Indiana, USA, was the first user to reach 1 million edits across the site, gained a near-celebrity status in the media, becoming a poster boy for the Wikipedian community.

So what does someone with nearly 1.5 million edits actually spend time editing?

Wikipedia states that most Wikiholics (actual term) spend their time making small edits to existing pages without contributing to community discussion. These people are called ‘exopedians’. Conversely, those who participate in the community more vocally are known as ‘metapedians’.

Most users are generalists: editing old, creating new and reverting the endless stream of vandalism which is so inevitable in a communal platform. A smaller group of users specialise, focusing on one particular spelling or grammar mistake over other.

Take for instance Bryan Henderson, a man from San Jose, USA who has made over 50,000 edits across the site – all replacing usage of ‘comprised of’ with ‘consists of’.

Whatever the mission a user decides to take up, they better be ready to fight for it. Wikipedia is a battlefield, with edits, revisions and opinions flying like gunfire. Some of the most pedantic, endlessly waged wars include:

  • Which order to list the Beatles (and do you capitalise ‘The’)?
  • Is JK Rowling pronounced ‘rolling’ or ‘rowling’?
  • Aluminium or Aluminum?
  • Which is more famous: Iron Maiden (band) or Iron Maiden (torture device)
  • Is it neutral to call an animal ‘cute’?
  • Are crisps ‘flavoured’ or ‘seasoned’?

For more of these check out the incredible ‘Information is Beautiful’

As Wikipedia grows, and becomes more ingrained as the source of collective knowledge, it’s important to remember where it comes from: a small, relatively homogenous group of tireless, strong-opinioned editors. That’s who writes your encyclopedia…. or is it encyclopaedia?[discuss]

by James Browning

Browning

James is the Digital Marketing Associate at Lucidica, and Editor of the blog.

More by this author