Who Edits?

PaperTowns2009_6ATheTeen Book Club at our library (aka The Nerd Herd) read and discussed John Green’s PAPER TOWNS. In it, a character obsessively edits a fictional online resource very similar to Wikipedia. His complusiveness is a funny part of this book, but it seems that real life has taken a page from John Green.

Recently, at a presentation regarding Wikipedia and its users, employees were asked who actually edits this site?  If you’ve ever used Wikipedia, you’ll know that it is full of great information—some true and some not—most of which is contributed through user content alone. That means someone out there who knows a lot about a subject has taken the time to add his or her knowledge to the site regarding that topic. Is it always correct? No. Which is why many schools ban the use of Wikipedia when their students are doing research.

But for the most part, the content is probably pretty strong. However, the Wikipedia people set out after this presentation to find out exactly who was editing their site. And they came up with some very interesting facts. First, they conducted interviews with people who regularly contribute to or edit the site. They learned that a lot of these people were happy to work on a variety of subjects—whatever pleased them at the moment. Others were more specific and moved in one direction….like a user named Giraffedata, who had more than 15,000 edits to his credit…all for the same incorrect use of the term “comprised of” in articles. The Wiki people were VERY interested in Giraffedata, almost a God to some of them in the world of edits. So, they set out to find the person behind the screen name in hopes of honoring him with their own version of the Oscar in the Wiki editing world…a Barnstar.

And it turns out, Giraffedata is a 51-year-old software engineer names Bryan Henderson who has contributed more than 47,000 edits since 2007. And most of them are simply that one correction…..”comprised of”, which he replaces with “composed of” in proper form. He goes through articles systematically, week by week, and makes the change, determined to rid the world of his singular pet peeve. He even wrote a piece of software to help him find the newest additions to Wikipedia, and does his corrections each Sunday night. It won’t change the world, but in his own way, he’s making a mark in a unique way.

You can read more about Mr. Henderson and his quirky connection to Wikipedia right here. The article is full of pie charts, photos, and fascinating information not only about why Henderson does what he does, but how it impacts what you read. And if you are interested in making your own changes or additions to the information website, you can find out how to do it…well, on Wikipedia! It’s an arduous process, but once you learn how to do it, you’ve got a new skill. Give it a try!

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