Wikipedia enthusiasts convene at Berkeley edit-a-thon

Alison Fu/Staff
More than a dozen from across Northern California congregate at Central Berkeley Public Library for the Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, at which participants edited and created new articles for the website.

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For some, Wikipedia is just an online resource. For others who dub themselves “Wikipedians,” however, the site represents a community, a hobby — or a way to pass a weekend afternoon, as many did at the Berkeley Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on Saturday.

About 20 people from across Northern California attended the event at the Central Berkeley Public Library downtown, coming together to not only edit and create Wikipedia articles but to also learn from each other. The event was part of a worldwide outreach initiative called Wikipedia Loves Libraries, which centers around Open Access Week, a global event held in October to support open access for research.

The edit-a-thon was as much a practice session for new Wikipedians as a time for experienced Wikipedians to start new projects. Attendees ranged from experts who have been editing for 10 years to beginners editing for the first time.

“It is really cool to use things that I know and be able to put them on Wikipedia,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Shreyas Patankar, who helped organize the event. “Part of the purpose of these events is to focus on topics that are not well-covered.”

The Wikipedian community, full of self-taught experts on subjects ranging from mushrooms to mountaineering, consists of volunteers who enjoy researching and sharing the information they find with the general public.

“There’s a permanence to Wikipedia editing,” said Jim Heaphy, a Napa Valley resident who has edited hundreds of articles and started more than 60 articles since he joined in 2009. “Coming up with something of value for someone else who might be researching the topic … (creates) a great feeling of satisfaction.”

Heaphy, similar to many other Wikipedians, began editing due to his interest in a specific topic — in his case, mountaineering. Going through the Wikipedia pages, he found that many well-known mountain climbers did not have Wikipedia articles, so he started contributing.

Now Heaphy has branched out to write about topics ranging from politics to historical restaurants.

But just like any other hobby, editing Wikipedia articles first requires some practice. As Patankar explained, the process of becoming a full-fledged editor typically begins with doing simple copy edits on Wikipedia articles, though new users can begin by adding content and references to articles if they choose to do so.

Jorge Vargas, a legal intern for the Wikimedia Foundation, had not edited before Saturday’s event and chose articles from his home country, Colombia, to edit.

“It’s overwhelming, but it’s also very fun,” Vargas said. “It will take a while to learn, but hopefully I’ll get it soon.”

Though a date has not been set yet, the Wikipedians hope to hold another edit-a-thon in Berkeley next month.

“There’s more work to be done than has been done so far,” said UC Berkeley alumnus Kevin Gorman. “Nothing in Wikipedia is ever really done.”

Alison Fu covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @alisonfu_.