March 29th, 2011

Big Damn Heroes

Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month. I encourage people to celebrate it by contacting your U.S. representatives in support of voting to approve a site for the National Womens History Museum.

Beyond that, a recent post by Cheryl Morgan reminded me of why I edit Wikipedia. Well, there are a few reasons, I guess. One is that I just love synthesizing information from many different sources into a single article. Another is that I like contributing to an influential, shared information resource. Another is that not enough women do write for Wikipedia, so women's history is under-represented there.

Only about 1% of Wikipedia readers edit the wiki, though anyone can. Of that 1%, only about 13% is estimated to be female.

Unlike Cheryl, I am an historian (I have a bachelor's degree in history), and I am trying to help capture both current and past history in Wikipedia. When I look over my User Page, on which I note articles I have created or made a significant contribution to, I see about 20 that are about women. And that's just what I've noted.

It is, of course, impossible to count on having content put into wikipedia stay there. Most of my articles survive, even if they are nominated for speedy deletion (like my article on Bar Keeper's Friend was). But even if an article survives for years, it could still be deleted. I note with sadness, for instance, that my article on A.E. London is tagged as possibly not being notable enough. I'm hoping another editor will remove the tag at some point.

When I was on a strategic task force on reader conversion, one of our task force members created this diagram based on survey information on why people who read wikipedia don't edit wikipedia:

Sue Gardner just posted a blog entry about why women aren't a larger part of the wikipedia editor community, but it's not really a mystery to me. As she notes, women have much less free time, internationally, than men. So when they do something like edit a wiki, they want their time to be well-invested, which means they want it to be effective, useful, and lasting. Wikipedia does not have mechanisms for opting to be notified by email if an article you've worked on or created is changed or nominated for deletion (these tools exist and are turned on for some wikimedia projects, but not for the main wikipedia article space). The "watch" function is not useful for that purpose for anyone who has made a significant number of contributions. Furthermore, there is no obvious recourse to take with regard to editors who are being bullies. Bullies are a problem throughout the U.S. and wikipedia is no exception. What do bullies do? Well, among other things, they delete other people's work.

The preconditions for people getting involved are clearly more of a barrier than how comfortable, pretty, or usable the technical interface is. Unless Wikipedia changes its culture and makes it much more obvious what to do if you feel your work is being unreasonably attacked - and unless it demonstrates a commitment to weeding out the people who are the problem - women's history and women's interest topics are going to continue to be lacking there.

Still, I'm doing what I can to fight that trend, by creating well-referenced, clearly notable articles. If you want to help and need any assistance from an experienced wikipedia editor, let me know.