Wikipedia, and Other Growing Pains


In a way, Wikipedia and I grew up together.

I started kindergarten the same year that Wikipedia launched. So as I progressed through grade school, nearly all of the answers to my endless adolescent questions about how I could attempt to live underwater or what they really meant by "birds and bees" were soon available on the digital encyclopedia that anyone could edit—even me.

In middle school, I was inspired by Weird Al Yankovic's "White & Nerdy" ("Shoppin' online for deals on some writable media / I edit Wikipedia") to make anonymous edits to the Spongebob Squarepants article. Those edits were quickly reverted by editors with no mercy for my fun and games.

By the time I reached high school, Wikipedia had expanded to more than 3 million articles. A crash course on editing the site was actually part of my computer class curriculum! Although I was familiar with the basic process of making edits, I never devoted much time to voluntarily editing Wikipedia until many years later.

Once I reached college, Wikipedia had grown to nearly 4.5 million articles. Professors warned against using the site, but I was eternally grateful for the list of references at the bottom of articles when it came to writing research papers on environmental health scandals and historical feminism in politics.

Soon I was a young professional trying to break into a writing career. Who could have guessed that one of my first jobs would involve engaging with the Wikipedia community all of the time? Through my job as a writer and researcher here at Beutler Ink, I've gained a broader perspective about so many of the issues surrounding the massive online resource that I previously took for granted.

One particular issue that has surfaced within the last few years is the gender disparity among editors. This has become such a widely known topic across the Wikipedia community and the media that the topic earned its own article, Gender bias on Wikipedia. Sources vary on the exact percentage of female editors, but the numbers range from 8.5% - 16%.

It should go without saying that percentage is far too low.

As a young woman with the privilege of education, I feel that it is my duty to help narrow this gender gap. Thankfully, my experience researching issues on the site professionally has given me the skills to voluntarily edit articles related to women in my free time. I started editing the easy way, contributing minor grammatical edits and fixing typos in random articles Wikipedia had already flagged as needing help. As I gained more confidence navigating the site and the community of editors, I began editing articles about women in music and wellness, subject areas that I find interesting. I recently attended an edit-a-thon in Portland, Oregon that focused on art and feminism. The goal of this edit-a-thon is to improve coverage of cis and transgender women, non-binary individuals, and articles related to the topics of art and feminism on Wikipedia. Not only did I learn a few things about volunteer editing at this event, but I also met some really interesting people who shared a common goal.

As a writer, I want to edit more articles about other women and minority writers. This year I plan to create new articles for women entrepreneurs, musicians, and writers who don't currently have Wikipedia articles. My hope is that in this post #metoo era, Wikipedia and I continue to grow together to make the internet—and the world—a better place for future generations of strong women.

Katy Jane Young