Why I became a Wikipedia contributor (and why you should, too)

Wikipedia is a part of everyday life for most everyone who uses the web. I personally cross-reference or poke around Wikipedia almost every day—93 times in the past 30 days alone, per my browser history. Millions of people are similar to me, if not more so.

Having become something of an institution, Wikipedia now faces a long-term struggle for its fiscal and editorial health. Most immediate is the need for cash flow. Wikipedia’s frequent pledge drives on its website do a good job of highlighting the organization’s monetary needs (and plenty of readers, thankfully, are listening).

More easily overlooked is its slowly dwindling volunteer workforce, the thousands of people who keep Wikipedia updated and objective.

Active editors on Wikipedia, from The EconomistWikipedia is only as strong as its contributors and editors, a team that peaked several years ago. The Economist did a great deep-dive into Wikipedia’s state of affairs this spring. It pointed out that the number of English-language editors on the site has dropped steadily for nearly a decade, to 30,000 volunteers this year, down from 50,000 in its heyday. That sounds like a big staff, but with nearly two billion pages to curate, and an almost entirely unpaid team, the math quickly gets sour.

Right around the time of the Economist article, I found myself disgruntled at yet another article speaking in the present tense about 2011. So, after a decade of lurking and leeching, I signed up for a Wikipedia account. And when I see a line like, “The band is slated to appear on the first week of Jimmy Fallon’s new talk show,” my annoyance now turns to utility, as I am empowered to fix that sentence, and a tiny bit responsible, too. As a longtime writer, editor and grammar hound it’s a no-brainer for me to pitch in.

I’ve only updated a handful of articles thus far, but I am quick to hit the Edit button when I see outdated or inaccurate text, most recently this morning, updating the status of a canceled program. Making updates to Wikipedia is easy, it’s satisfying, and it ensures that the site will continue to be a useful resource.

Wikipedia, of course, has been running on this model since its inception. But too many people, like me, take the labor behind the site for granted. My own contribution ultimately will be small, but it will be a contribution nonetheless.

Please consider doing the same. Even occasional edits help keep the world’s encyclopedia appropriately encyclopedic.