In editathons, language scholars make Wikipedia more reliable.
In 2015, the Linguistic Society of America used its annual conference to host its first Wikipedia “editathon”—an event where members gather to create or improve entries in the open online encyclopedia. At first, the idea was simply an experiment in giving members a way to engage both inside and outside LSA’s community.
“One side is giving linguists an opportunity to practice writing for the public and communicating linguistics knowledge in a way that’s accessible,” says Lauren B. Collister, an LSA member and volunteer with the effort. “On the flip side, it was another entry point for [the public] to discover something about linguistics.”
In the years since, the editathons have become more sophisticated. Volunteers host dedicated training sessions on how to navigate the site. This year LSA has hosted “satellite” editathons beyond its annual meeting in New York City. The association has partnered with Wikipedia’s Wiki Education Foundation, which provides education tools and other support. And a few members spruced up LSA’s own Wikipedia page as well.
Some members were initially skeptical, says LSA Executive Director Alyson Reed. The site is open to editing by anybody, and LSA is an association of scholars. “But people were beginning to understand that if we want Wikipedia to be a reliable source of information, then the onus is on us to contribute and make sure that the scholarly information accessible through Wikipedia is accurate and of good quality,” she says.
Along the way, LSA has picked up a few tips for making editathons successful. One is to give the event a specific focus. For instance, 2019 is the United Nations Year of Indigenous Languages, and this year’s editathon emphasized working on pages on that theme. “If you just have a general editathon, people don’t come,” Collister says.
A little training goes a long way. LSA shares a slide deck to guide newcomers to Wikipedia’s sometimes intimidating editing interface. Collister also emphasizes the flexibility of the event, encouraging people to participate as they’re able rather than sitting through the whole session—and continuing work offsite if needed. Having a couple of experienced hands at Wikipedia ready to assist during the event is useful. And, lastly, Collister says, “having snacks really helps.”