My first Wikipedia contribution

That’s right, you get a 2-for-1 today. I’m writing a second entry. Normally, I try to space things out, but I just couldn’t help myself after reading the today’s Archivist of the United States blog entry “10 Years of Wikipedia.”

It just so-happens I made my very first-ever contribution to Wikipedia this afternoon — before even seeing the AOTUS’s blog post. What a bizarre coincidence.

I had made a mental note — okay, and an Outlook task — to update the Wikipedia entry for Charles G. Bickham at some point, ever since I realized he had a Wikipedia entry. The only reason he even has an entry is because he was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for heroics in the Philippines in 1902 — apparently, anyone who has a Medal of Honor has a Wikipedia entry, even if it’s just a short one (which this was).

However, I happened to have a bit more information about Charlie Bickham, seeing as we have a manuscript collection at the Dayton Library about the Bickham family. (You might recall I mentioned it in my previous blog post “Bickham and the presidents” [2011-02-21]. Charlie’s father William was editor of the Dayton Journal for about 30 years.)

So, today, I decided to actually get around to updating that Wikipedia entry, including some additional bio information and a photo. (If you are wondering which parts I wrote, it’s the section from “He served as a Colonel…” to “…never married.” Plus, I added the photo, the original of which is in the library’s collection.)

I had to sign up for a (free) Wikipedia account in order to contribute/edit the entry. Okay, that seems fair…

But then, when I got to the edit screen, I was surprised by how complicated it is to actually do. The text box containing the existing text had all sorts of weird markup in it (see screen shot from Wikipedia). I was able to figure most of it out, by comparing the markup to the finished product: e.g., Oh, apparently, that’s how they make hyperlinks to other Wikipedia articles (and that sort of thing). But man… I was not expecting it to be so complex!

Adding the picture was even more complicated. You had to get a Wikipedia Commons account (or, activate the one that already existed when you signed up for a Wikipedia account) and then upload your picture, provide all sorts of information about where you got it, and then link to it.

I actually really respect the fact that they demanded so much info about the provenance of the picture: whose it is, where did it come from, copyrights, use rights, etc. I hope that my explanation of where it came from was sufficient to please the Wikipedia gods so they don’t remove it! (The long and short of it, in this case, is that the photo is from 1891 so it is not copyrighted.)

I was surprised (and annoyed) by the citation process for the actual text, though. They did not demand citations for individual statements or at any certain frequency or anything. And when I tried to cite something, there were these “templates” you had to use: book, journal, web, and newspaper, I think were the only options. Um, hello? What about manuscript collection – (an actual primary source! what a concept!) – which is what I needed to cite.

So failing with the available citation templates, I went to another article that I thought would have primary sources listed to see if I could copy/paste some code. I chose the William McKinley entry. Interestingly enough, I did not have permission to “edit” this entry (it was locked – which I actually consider a good idea for already well-documented entries), but I was able to view the code (just not edit it). There were no actual “citations” (footnotes) for primary sources, but a listing at the end for “Primary Sources” so I used that format. Again, hopefully my attempts at citing sources will please the Wikipedia gods and they won’t just delete my changes.

Speaking of changes, on the Edit screen, there was a field for you to provide a brief explanation of the changes that you made. (Under View History, you can see a list with usernames and dates of all the people who had edited that entry previously – my name is on there!) Another neat feature if you have an account is that you can “watch” articles, which allows you to get notifications if it is changed or updated.

Anyway, I survived my first Wikipedia contribution. I’m sure it won’t be the last. I just wish the text markup was a little more user-friendly. Geesh!

3 responses to “My first Wikipedia contribution

  1. The editing on Wikipedia was a lot easier until they changed it about 6 months ago. You almost have to remember the old code to edit a page to your liking. I am sure there are online tutorials. The only tool you’ll really need is the “==” you put before and after a title, this makes a new heading. I also dislike the new citation tool. It seems it’s only built for citing webpages. Happy editing!


    • Thanks, Bill – I agree with you about the citations. It did seem like they were trying to force my citation into a box, and the instructions kept using the word “VERIFIABLE” in big bold letters. It’s like, Um, yeah, I DO have a verifiable source – doesn’t get much more verifiable than primary source material. It just so happens that you won’t be able to find my source online or in a book or journal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. So I’m nervous they are going to nix my changes just because they “can’t” verify the stuff (i.e. can’t verify it quickly and easily) – guess what, not all historical research can be done quickly and easily! (I know you know that – but I hope Wikipedia knows that too!)

  2. i am just a reader of Wikipedia, and at this point that is my interest . The basic assumption is that what is written is true. A reasonable starting point.

    if something strikes me as not true, or questionable i can always look it up in ” funk and wangnels” or britanica, or other hard copy books in a library i suppose. In the meantime i am a great fan of wikipedia and will make a contribution even thoug it is small


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