Monday, 20 March 2017

Geek to Live: How to contribute to Wikipedia


Geek to Live: How to contribute to Wikipedia

This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.

by Gina Trapani

Last month I was surfing the collaboratively-edited free encyclopedia Wikipedia,
as I'm wont to do, and I came across a typo. I've always been only a
Wikipedia reader, never a Wikipedia editor. Over the years, Wikipedia
has greatly benefitted me with scads of information about every topic
under the sun. However, the prospect of editing the thing seemed scary
and mysterious - I mean, who are these people anyway? How does one
become an encyclopedia editor? - but there it was, a big honkin' typo
staring at me. I was suddenly seized by the responsibility - obligation,
really - to fix it. So I took the plunge and hit that edit button.

began my love affair with editing Wikipedia. It turns out editing an
article isn't scary at all. It's easy, surprisingly satisfying and can
become obsessively addictive. If you've always wondered who edits
Wikipedia and how it's done, you're in the right place. Today we'll go
over how to contribute to Wikipedia and give back to the community which
offers so much by way of free information.

The Basics

Wikipedia is an editable web site powered by a free software called MediaWiki.
MediaWiki (which is an amazing package for personal wiki installations,
by the way) allows anyone to edit any page within the wiki. To edit a
page, you simply click on the edit button at the top of a page, here:

This image was lost some time after publication.

The text of the page will be displayed inside an editable textarea.
You'll see some square brackets and other formatting markup; we'll go
over that in a minute. For a simple typo, you can just change the word
that's misspelled. To preview your changes without saving them, you can
hit the "Show Preview" button. (I highly recommend doing this first,
even for a little typo correction.) When you're satisfied with your
changes, press the "Save this Page" button. Your changes will appear

Before you hit the Save button for the first time, enter a line
summarizing it. Are you deleting spam? Linking text that should've been
linked but wasn't? Adding a section? Say so in the Summary field.

Also know that it's good practice to check off the "minor edit" button for, um, minor edits.
A typo or formatting correction or rearranging of existing text all
qualify as minor edits. (Note: you must be logged in to see the minor
edit checkbox. See the "Your Wikipedia user page" section for more

This image was lost some time after publication.

Once you save the page, your change will be noted in Wikipedia's Recent Changes
which lists the thousands of Wikipedia edits that happen per hour.
Also, the change will be listed in the History section of that
particular page. Any revisions can be rolled back and diff'ed against
other versions of a page. That's the beauty of Wikipedia: anything can
be done and undone and corrected and added to realtime, and there are
full logs of all of the activity, time-stamped and available for
everyone to view and review. Don't think your change will go unnoticed,
because it won't. The place is crawliing with readers and writers and
your change will be swept away immediately if it's not correct or legit.

The rate of content change on Wikipedia is astounding, almost
real-time as news breaks. For example, earlier this week, when WNBA star
Sheryl Swoopes publicly acknowledged she's in a same-sex relationship
with her former assistant coach, I headed over to Swoopes' Wikipedia entry
to add that notable information about her, only to find it had already
been added. Some opinionated and homophobic commentary had also already
been added and deleted. This was literally an hour or so after the story
broke. Wikipedians are quick on the draw. Check out the change history on Swoopes' Wikipedia page here to see the activity.

To read more about editing a page, see Wikipedia's How to edit a page entry. Then, to give it a try yourself, head over to the Sandbox. This is a special page set up for new Wikipedia editors who want to practice - but not on a real article.

Formatting and linking conventions

and formatting within an article is acheived using special Wikipedia
markup. For example, a section header is denoted with equal signs, like

== Section Header Name ==

A subsection is:

=== Subsection Name ===

An external URL like this - Lifehacker - would be achieved like this:

[ Lifehacker]

You'll notice that external links off Wikipedia are followed by a little arrow, like this:

This image was lost some time after publication.

Links to internal Wikipedia entries - like the Shery Swoopes page - would be achieved like this:

[[Sheryl Swoopes]]

MediaWiki's User Guide offers a full reference for MediaWiki markup on the Help:Editing page.

Just the facts, ma'am

Wikipedia isn't a place for opinions, judgements, self-promotion, spam, rumors or speculation. Wikipedia instructs:

use a neutral point of view, as Wikipedia is not a place to promote
points of view. Write as if the information is a non-judgmental news

Cite your sources so others can check and extend your work.
Most Wikipedia articles currently lack good references, and this
contributes to Wikipedia's single greatest criticism

that it is not a reliable source. Please help by researching online and
print resources to find references for the article you are working on,
then cite them in proper form, and consider in-text citation for
contentious facts.
At first writing like a reporter
may feel awkward to non-journalists, but presenting cited facts and not
opinion is core to making Wikipedia a legitimate source. Unfounded
opinion or subjective observations in an entry will be deleted. See the Guide to writing better articles at Wikipedia for tips and advice for improving a Wikipedia article.

Your Wikipedia user page

you get started editing Wikipedia, consider creating a Wikipedia user
account. A user account is your community identity, which will be listed
next to your changes, and in turn will list all the edits you've made
throughout the site in one place.

Additionally, logged in users have access to advanced preferences and
editing options. While anonymous changes are welcome, in general, you
and your changes will be recognized within the Wikipedia community only
if you have a user account. A history of worthy edits will build your
reputation as a Wikipedian. See more about user accounts at the Why create an account? page.

My Wikipedia user page reveals that the few changes I've made over time span topics from 1970s films to Brooklyn parks and schools to WNBA players' personal lives.

Everyone's an expert on something; Wikipedia aggregates that expertise and makes it available to everyone.

Be bold but not reckless

Wikipedia's advice to editors is be bold but don't be reckless. (Pretty good life advice, as well.) The introduction to Wikipedia page says it best:

Don't be afraid to edit pages on Wikipedia

anyone can edit, and we encourage users to be bold...but don't be
reckless! Find something that can be improved, either in content,
grammar or formatting, then fix it. Worried about breaking Wikipedia?
Don't be: it can always be fixed or improved later. So go ahead, edit an
article and help make Wikipedia the best source of information

on the Internet!
So poke around and be bold, but not
reckless. You never know what stray facts you may have rattling around
in your head that might benefit everyone in a Wikipedia article.

Where help is needed

Wikipedians organize around specific efforts to improve the content of the site, like Project Punctuation and Too-short pages. Also, lists of the most wanted but not yet created articles
is available for those of you who want to start your own entries.
Explore and find the areas where help is needed the most. Then pitch in
where you can.

If all this linkage is overwhelming, then simply start here at the Wikipedia Tutorial, a step-by-step guide to editing, formatting, registration and other wiki functionality.

Welcome to the world of contributing to Wikipedia. Happy editing!

Gina Trapani is the editor of Lifehacker. Her special feature Geek to Live appears every Wednesday and Friday on Lifehacker.

Geek to Live: How to contribute to Wikipedia

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