The First 50 Mistakes of a Wikipedian

Jake Orlowitz
A Wikipedia Librarian
14 min readAug 27, 2019

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From the first time I edited, to the ten-thousandth, it dawned on me over several years that what made a ‘Wikipedian’ was not rigid neutrality, or knowledge of markup formatting, or proper usage of citation templates. Rather, the defining characteristic was someone who had been bold enough to make 50 mistakes. Surely, it shouldn’t require such trial and error to figure out our community, but alas, such is life. I wrote this guide in the hope that to become successful in the Wikimedia community you will require, perhaps, only 13 mistakes. Your mileage may vary, but I assure you that these common pitfalls are worth understanding, at the very least so that you’ll understand why the torches are following you. Rather than terrify, may they light your path.

Sometimes you piss off Wikimedians, but these situations are surprisingly few when you engage with intelligence, clarity, and respect. Realistically anything you do will piss off somebody. The key is to understand when this is likely to happen, how to minimize it happening needlessly, and when it’s necessary or worth doing regardless. Also, how to acknowledge mistakes when you make them.

Interestingly, avoiding these behaviors won’t help that much, because the goal is to go way beyond a lack of hostility and well into the realm of creativity, trust, and impact. Still, it’s good to know what might get in the way of your sincere efforts.

Culture

  1. Assume problems arise from a community’s “culture” rather than sincere differences of opinion, experience, and perspective. It’s the easiest game in town to assume that ‘the other guy’ is doing it all wrong; a better game is to ask the other person what he/she cares about and learn to see the world from his/her perspective.
  2. Ignore small communities completely because there are few active editors. While it’s unwise to try and exponentially scale small communities, it’s equally disheartening to forget they exist, because one day they might be a major force for sharing knowledge.
  3. Ignore the Sister projects (particularly Commons, Wikisource, Wiktionary, and Wikidata).Wikimedia really is bigger than Wikipedia, and its communities on those projects have a lot to contribute in terms of global perspective as well as massive potential for growth.

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Jake Orlowitz
A Wikipedia Librarian

Internet citizen. Founder of The Wikipedia Library. Seeker of well people and sane societies. Read my book: welcometothecircle.net