I’ve been looking for a job since early January now and haven’t been invited for a job interview even once, so I had to find something to keep myself occupied. Editing Wikipedia proved to be a productive use of my free time and has even become slightly addictive. I’ve been editing since 30 January 2009 (I wrote about it before here and here) but I spent the most time on it during this month and the last because I have so much free time now. Take a look at my user page to see my activity.
What I’ve done
It started when I decided to look up the article for the e-mail client I use daily, Evolution. The version I encountered before I started working on it was quite outdated, so I’ve improved it considerably to a state which is more or less finished.
As a Classical Antiquity nerd I’m quite interested in ancient Greek and Roman cities, so I ended up reading the article on Sybaris. This article had serious issues, because like many other articles on ancient cities its content was copied from a 19th century dictionary. That dictionary didn’t mention the city was excavated in the 20th century of course. After finding sources about its excavation and figuring out what the obscure abbreviations for references to ancient works meant, I give the article a rigorous update.
But as you can see it’s not finished yet because good photos are still missing. Note that three partially overlapping cities were built on the site and that it’s difficult to be certain which remains are on the photos. I only managed to add one which was sent to me by an Italian scientist I contacted, but the quality isn’t great. I’m playing with the thought of getting a ticket to Bari for € 28 with Ryanair, a second hand Nikon D5100 and the 35mm prime lens to make some pictures of this site and others for use on Wikipedia myself.
There are many more articles of ancient cities and other archaeological sites which need a lot of work. Apart from the Mediterranean world, there are also many articles about cities in Mesopotamia and South Asia. Unless I find a way to clone myself it’s simply too much, so I try to focus on a few articles and make minor improvements to the rest. This includes things such as adding the the geobox river and infobox ancient site templates to articles.
Why I do it and you should help
But why are you doing this, you might ask? Not only is Wikipedia’s mission to spread knowledge freely totally cool, it’s exciting that thousands of people read what you write. You become an authority to them to some degree, you feel like you have some power over them. If you get killed by a lightning strike tomorrow, the information you contributed to Wikipedia will still live on.
Even though I mostly edit the more obscure articles – popular articles don’t have much room for improvement – an article like Sybaris gets 5.000 visitors a month. Babylon on the other hand, to which I’ve made a minor contribution, gets 170.000 a month.
To give a motivation which is less self-serving and based on illusions of grandeur, the desire to contribute is reciprocal for me. I benefit from good Wikipedia articles written by others, so I wish to return the favor. And because I’m slightly perfectionist, it is simply frustrating for me that some articles are so inadequate. Also, contributing to Wikipedia allows me to compensate for having lost the opportunity to do volunteer work in India to some degree.