Readers and writers

Speaking of being surprised … not all that long ago I was at a National Science Foundation workshop with about fifty educators – mostly educators from various universities around the U.S. In one of the talks the speaker asked who among us uses the Wikipedia. Not surprisingly, about fifty hands went up. As we all know, everyone uses the Wikipedia.

But then the speaker asked who has edited an article in the Wikipedia. I put my hand up, not really thinking about it. And then after a moment I realized that only two of us in the room had our hands up. She and I looked at each other – we, apparently, were unusual.

So what’s up with this? Why is it that in a room of highly educated people – people who teach our college and graduate students – almost none have ever edited an article on Wikipedia, a resource that they themselves use every day? I would have asked them directly, but I couldn’t figure out a suitably non-confrontational way to frame the question.

It seems to me like the most natural thing in the world: If I happen to see an error I fix it, just to make it a little better for the next reader. It’s very easy to do, and it seems like the right way to treat a common resource.

Do I just have a fundamentally different view of the Wikipedia than most people?

2 thoughts on “Readers and writers”

  1. Maybe they forget that the *can* edit Wikipedia. Maybe they didn’t know that they *could* edit Wikipedia.

    Being an “educator” does not necessarily make one fully computer literate. Wikipedia came along fairly recently in some of these these people’s academic careers. After attending a recent academic conference in my new field–I was amazed at the technophobe contingent.

  2. I’d also hazard a guess that the earlier you came across wikipedia the more comfortable you are about editing it. Users starting now would see the majority of content to be accurate (for the web at least) and not feel the need to contribute, whereas earlier there were vast areas of minimal content to add to. There are also wikification protocols in place now that scare even moderate users out of any substantial changes, lest they be jumped on by the wiki police.

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