Wikipedia volunteers share conviction of doing good for society
By David Mehegan, Globe Staff
Second of two parts
Who are the Wikipedians, these unsupervised volunteers with strange
pen names such as Schzmo, Hooperbloob, and Chlewbot, most of whom
will never meet face to face? Who are these people who made
Wikipedia, the phenomenal online encyclopedia of almost a million
articles in English, with no one leading or directing them?
There is no simple answer, since they're spread all over the
English-speaking world. But leaving aside the vandals who do their
worst to wreck the project, interviews with participants over the past
few weeks can be pieced together into a partial profile.
Wikipedians -- as they call themselves -- tend to be young, bright,
lively readers. They are highly educated, intellectually curious,
sociable, interested in many things and in finding new interests.
They are computer-savvy, accustomed to the world of Google, blogs,
user groups, meetups, instant messaging, and free and open information
on the Internet. According to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, there are
many more males than females.
They are also idealistic and optimistic about people and the good
things they can accomplish when they collaborate. And they're
confident they can outlast, outwit, and defeat the people they call
trolls and vandals, who represent the dark side of Wikipedia.
To some observers, the undirected, anonymous nature of Wikipedia is
disturbing: Who are the people writing these articles, and why should
anyone trust what they write? But to the Wikipedians, that mass of
unmanaged anonymity is what makes Wikipedia great.