Why do people edit Wikipedia?


In the first installment of this short series, we considered who edits Wikipedia. In this post, we'll talk about why they decide to contribute to the world's biggest encyclopedia.

Why do people edit Wikipedia, anyway?

Of course, Wikipedia editors all have their individual reasons for wanting to contribute to Wikipedia, but here are the most common:

  • Wanting to contribute to a source of free knowledge.
  • Wanting to improve information on particular topic of interest, whether a focus of study or a favorite TV show.
  • Distinct to the above, some individuals want to push a particular view through edits and participation in the Wikipedia community.
  • For fun! Some editors really enjoy fixing typos, adding images and material to articles.

Of course, some topics and subjects get more editor attention than others. A recent analysis of ten different language editions of Wikipedia found that most-edited pages were mostly hotly-contested topics, including George W. Bush, the Prophet Muhammad and anarchism.

From my personal experience, entire topics getting "ignored" is less of a problem than "stub" subsections of existing articles that contain just enough information to warrant conclusion, but haven't been properly integrated into the structure of the article. As articles expand incrementally, it becomes necessary to consider revising and restructuring them in their entirety so that the information is well-organized and proceeds logically.

There's also the problem of chronological data or lists being incomplete or inaccurate. If you want to be a true completist, you could update entertainer and athlete pages to reflect minor but still notable awards, athletes, and recognitions.

The article for Shaquille O'Neal, for instance, does not currently note that he was winner of the "Athlete of the Year" award at the 1999 Source Hip-Hop Music Awards. And Whitney Houston's page lists her two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards, but does not note that she was a two-time host of the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards.

All of which brings us to the next question you may be asking yourself:

Can I edit Wikipedia?

Yes! Anyone can edit, and that means you, too. I recommend setting up a Wikipedia account so that your IP address is not visible when you edit. Then start small: fix a typo, add a citation, make some copy edits.

The one thing to keep in mind is to be very careful with topics where others may reasonably think you have a conflict of interest—especially a financial one. In particular, don't edit articles about yourself, family members, the company / organization you work for, or any organization you currently work for. (Looking for guidance about what that means? Beutler Ink can help.) Otherwise, dive in!