By Guest Author 20/12/2019


Stuart Yeates

Today is my 15th-anniversary editing Wikipedia under my own name.

I was recruited to join Wikipedia from the Everything2 community, one of several predecessors to Wikipedia, where I’d been editing since 2000. Everything2 was fun to write, editors voted on each other’s articles and humour was an important factor in getting good ratings, but it clearly wasn’t optimising the quality of encyclopedic output. My contributions were about what you’d expect from a reasonably-literate young lad pitching humour to a like-minded community under a pseudonym.

Everything2 rapidly faded between 2003-2007 once it became clear that Wikipedia had a much better model for encyclopedia building: enforcing referencing, a rigorous style guide, formal quality control mechanisms, a multi-tiered governance structure and so forth. Initially, when I started editing Wikipedia I continued to use pseudonyms, but after a couple of years it became clear that Wikipedia was a beast of a very different nature and there was no use for first-person jokes; I switched to editing under my own name.

In fifteen years I’ve only regretted using my own name twice.

The first was a run-in with a criminal-justice advocate called Roger Brooking who was trying to use Wikipedia to right the great wrongs being inflicted in New Zealand by the criminal justice system. His user talk page lays out in some detail where he went wrong, but he also took it to his blog and the news media.

The second was when an editor talked their way into staff-only areas at my workplace to harangue me about an issue they had with my editing. Fortunately, after a brief rant was all that he seemed to need.

Most of my editing (which in the Wikipedia context covers everything from writing brand new articles, to copy editing, to reviewing new editor’s first articles, to participation in disciplinary activities and refining local and global policies) has been working on writing of biographies of Kiwis. I’ve written:

The last is one of hundreds of articles I started as one-line one-ref stubs for every person with a single-person biography in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. It turned out that because most of the white men already had articles; most of the articles I created were for Māori and/or women.

My most enduring motivation for editing Wikipedia is autodidacticism—I’m the kind of person who likes to spend copious amounts of time reading about random things on the internet. Editing Wikipedia gives me an abstract structure for this and restructuring a portion of the knowledge in an article cements it in my memory.

My current project is to make a small change to each of the Wikipedia biographies marked as alumni of the University of Canterbury. The impetus for this was, as a third-generation alumnus myself,  the apparent decadal decline the UC appears to be in right now, with the disruption from the earthquakes and other issues.

So, that’s me after 15 years of contributions to Wikipedia.

After an undergraduate at Canterbury, a PhD at Waikato and some time at Oxford, Stuart Yeates works in the Library at Victoria. Stuart is on WikipediaTwitter and occasionally maintains @KiwiPhDs.