|Wikipedia20 animated lightning, illustration by Wikimedia Deutschland e. V. Animators: Kunal Sen & Tisha Pillai.|
Today is Wikipedia's 20th birthday, and the largest encyclopedia in the world is being celebrated the world over. As a "veteran" Wikipedian myself - I've been a volunteer editor since 2007 - I woke up early this morning, feeling the urge to celebrate an aspect that has been overlooked in all the cake-baking and champagne-popping.
I'm here to celebrate the editor who hit the "Edit" button to discover "hey, I'm being encouraged to edit!". So they made their first edit: it was no more than correcting a typo, or rephrasing a sentence so that it made more sense. Then they learned how to add references, then upload images to Commons and add them to articles. And soon after, they got hooked: actually participating in building the sum of all human knowledge can be addictive for people who are passionate about evolving through knowledge.
Then they proudly published their first article. And woke up the next morning to find it littered with notification tags: notability, citations and style were being questioned in ugly banners across what they had so painstakingly created. So they discovered the discussion page, where their article was being discussed for deletion. There they interacted with the community, being as civil and polite as possible. Most members were equally kind in return, responding to the newcomer's queries about how to improve their article with patience and understanding. Some were vitriolic: the newcomer's questions kindled their need to spew irony and meanness. They got down to work on applying the advice given by the kind ones, some of whom even lent a helping hand by improving style and adding citations. When they had brought the article to a much better standard, they removed the notifications and there it was: an article that was even better than its original version, thanks to the help of their fellow editors. They waited a couple of days to see how their article would fare, and to their delight it was still sparkling clean, in fact a couple of editors had expanded it with great content. "Wow", they thought, "what an amazing place to be". So what if there were a few cretins: such is life. Look at all the wonderful things I've achieved, with the help of all these wonderful people. Forget the bad, keep the good.
Then they ventured into discussion spaces. They started suggesting ideas for projects, inviting other editors to collaborate. Most members responded with enthusiasm: projects were launched, articles created, files uploaded to Commons. They discovered newsletters and social media groups to share their accomplishments. They started actively participating in discussions on the village pump, offering insight to problems newcomers were facing - they never forgot the help they had been offered as a newcomer themselves. But apparently they were becoming too good, and some editors didn't like that. They were changing the status quo, and change can only bring trouble: soon enough, they would be challenging the power balance in this microcosm of society. So they were ferociously attacked by the gatekeepers of stagnancy: a stagnant environment is easier to control, and those with control-seeking personalities combined with humongous editing stats will not allow anyone or anything to change it.
But they persevered, and soon learned about offline events: they applied for a Wikimedia meetup and earned a scholarship. There they met amazing people from every corner of the globe and engaged in fruitful discussions. Their first event was followed by a second and a third, and soon they decided to assume volunteer responsibilities. Throughout the following events, Wikimedians would see them all over the place: helping out at registration, carrying projectors and conference packages, giving directions to the conference halls, doing anything in their power to make delegates happy and the conference run smoothly. But they had an exuberant personality: they were "loud", they often joked with people and patted them on the back. But some delegates didn't like that. So they were asked to step down from their volunteer capacity. Most of the delegates supported and comforted them, but the decision was not revoked and an explanation was not offered.
Broken and sad, yet still passionate about knowledge, they remained on the project, but in the sidelines: they no longer wanted to risk being exposed to hostility, either online or offline. They would work in "harmless" capacities, as there's always something valuable to do: put together a newsletter, copy-edit a blog post, review a project... so long as they were still part of the "sum of all human knowledge" vision.
So on this day, 15 January 2021, I'm here to celebrate the Wikipedian who never made it past the yellow paragraph. I'm here to celebrate the Wikipedian who never made it past the blue paragraph. I'm here to celebrate the Wikipedian who never made it past the red paragraph. And I'm here to celebrate the Wikipedian who made it through yellow, blue and red, but now sits in the sidelines.
And naturally, a wish is in order... so my birthday wish for Wikipedia20 is this:
Wikipedians are truly an amazing community. We are trailblazers, we are passionadas, we break boundaries of nation - colour - faith - gender. Yet there is one boundary we have yet to smash into a thousand pieces and leave that and only that in the sidelines of our movement: the boundary of POWER. If we could have our way, we would obliterate power conflict from relationships, politics and every aspect of our lives. The least we can do is to delete it from our movement. Let's do it.
Happy 20th Birthday Wikipedia, and many happy returns 💓