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We Asked a Wikipedia Contributor Why Everyone Thinks They're Unreliable

"Wikipedia is a gateway to more knowledge," he said.

by Ikhwan Hastanto; translated by Jade Poa
04 September 2019, 4:21am

Ilustrasi Wikipedia dari Pixabay/lisensi CC 2.0

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

The Wikipedia Indonesia Twitter account is known for its funny anecdotes, but lately, the person behind that account has been on a continuous rant about the website's validity as an academic source.

“You think when your professor says not to use Wiki as a source, he thinks you’ll quote Wikipedia directly?!” the tweet reads.

The post comes with a photo that enumerates points meant to enlighten skeptics. “Wikipedia is not a source. It directs you to other sources,” reads one. “The page must contain footnotes,” says another. “The footnotes must be from a reliable source,” the last bullet reminds.

After the admin’s little outburst, we thought it would be appropriate to have a chat with him to discuss the misconceptions he feels so strongly about. 24-year-old Bonaventura Aditya Perdana, who goes by the name Bona, has been a Wikipedia administrator and contributor for years.

While I expected his personality to reflect his hilarious tweets, it turns out that he’s the most “Wikipedia” guy out there: prim and proper.

Regardless, we hope this interview clears things up for you, your friends, and your professors who preach that Wikipedia is an unreliable source written by trolls.

VICE: Hello, Bona! What’s your official role at Wikipedia? How long have you been doing it?

Bona: Actually, I’d like to clear that up. Wikipedia isn’t a company, it’s an online community that aims to provide free information. All contributors are volunteers, so we don’t get paid.

At Wikipedia, there are no titles or job descriptions, just responsibilities. For example, I’m their social media administrator, so I help with administrative tasks (protecting pages, blocking users, providing users with rights to access) and promoting Wikipedia on social media. I’ve been a contributor since 2012.

Besides “working” for Wikipedia, do you have a day job?

I’m a social media officer at a comic book company.

Professors often forbid their students from referencing Wikipedia. What do you and other contributors think about that? Where do you think the reluctance to cite Wikipedia originated?

So, Wikipedia’s main goal from the start was to make information more widely accessible. If someone is interested in psychology, they don’t have to sift through books or spend hours surfing the internet.

Regarding the “ban” on using Wikipedia as an academic source, most people don’t know it’s actually a viable source. All you need to do is look at the footnotes in each article. There’s your source.

Use the footnotes as your official citation, don’t quote the Wikipedia page itself. Wikipedia is a gateway to more knowledge, and that’s where the footnotes come into play. Wikipedia isn’t a replacement for all the knowledge out there. Instead, it’s meant to help people access information beyond the Wikipedia page.

I heard that it’s really easy to make a Wikipedia page. Has Wikipedia ever gotten rid of an article that wasn’t accurate?

That’s what administrators do every day. Wikipedia has a “Recent Edits” feature that shows all the activity on a certain page. Some contributors’ job is to check each contribution, whether it’s a new article, an edit, etc. You can find that here. Only administrators can delete articles.

How do you become an administrator or a contributor? Is there a selection process?

If you want to be a contributor, all you have to do is sign up here. Administrators, on the other hand, are chosen yearly. There’s a sign-up process, a fit and proper test, and even a vote. You can see how it was done in 2019 here.

How many administrators are there across Indonesia?

We currently have 36. Here’s a list of them.

What do you think is the most common misconception about Wikipedia? Besides the assumption that it’s not a viable academic source, of course.

Hmm, so most people ask me if Wikipedia contributors get paid. The answer is no. Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia built by volunteers. Volunteers by definition don’t get paid.

Wikipedia stays alive thanks to the Wikimedia Foundation, which raises money every year to fund the website and other projects.

Are Wikipedia contributors involved in any of those projects? Who takes charge of them?

Even though we do this work voluntarily, Wikipedia still needs a unifying body to take care of the tasks volunteers can’t handle. This includes legal work, server maintenance, event organizing in various countries, and the likes. The people at the Wikimedia Foundation are considered staff or employees, and they get paid. They’re based in San Francisco.

Since Wikipedia has so many pages, do contributors ever have a hard time figuring out what to add to a page? Or is there always something to add every day?

Since we as humans learn more things every day, it’s unlikely that a contributor wouldn’t have information to add or update on any given day. As of now, Wikipedia Indonesia has one million registered users and around 2,000 active users. This is a lot less than the number of users on the English Wikipedia.

You speak very formally. Is it because you’re representing Wikipedia?

I just like writing more formally, but on Twitter I have to adjust my language to the targeted demographics. I’m used to it because I’ve been contributing to Wikipedia since I was in high school. In year 11, I had to memorize all the words in the dictionary.

Every word?! What kind of high school did you go to?

Yeah, it was weird. But it really had an impact on me moving forward. In fact, the passing grade was 80 out of 100.

Thanks for the chat, Bona! Best of luck!

Ikhwan Hastanto is a freelance writer based in Yogyakarta. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

This article originally appeared on VICE ID.

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Interview
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