It’s easy to create an account on Wikipedia, but why should you bother? They don’t require registration to read or edit the online encyclopedia, so is there any good reason to bother?
Yes. It is true that the site is free to use, both as a reader and as an editor, but many of the handier features are not available without an account, and there are some significant restrictions imposed on completely anonymous users.
What logged-in users can do:
Create new articles
Move articles to more appropriate names
Participate in deletion discussions
Vote in elections up to and including membership on the board of the Wikimedia Foundation itself
Keep your IP address private
Maintain a “watchlist” of articles important to you
These are valuable for members of a minority community such as Paganism. Just because a particularly well-known Pagan is notable (a term that I will discuss in depth in a later post) doesn’t mean that they will have an article on Wikipedia (or that it’s accurate); chances are, a Pagan Wikipedian is going to have to create it. And any article on a Pagan topic could be better illustrated by the picture — perhaps you took one at a festival that will do the trick, and would like to upload it. Moving articles (renaming them) is restricted because it can be abused, but having that ability allows you the fully participate in, say, the ongoing debate about what to call Germanic neopaganism?
It’s likely that Pagans know more about Pagan topics than most non-Pagans do. Wikipedia is based on what reliable sources say about a subject, but individual editors all have biases in how the interpret those sources. Since these articles tend to be edited by fewer people, a small number of editors can distort the truth, so that a subject is treated with undue negativity or even positivity. More eyes on an article means more accuracy in that article.
Those Pagan eyes are vital when a subject relevant to Pagans is up for deletion. Deletion discussions, and how to participate, are an advanced topic which I shall discuss in some depth, but you don’t get a say if you don’t have an account.
Positions of responsibility on Wikipedia, such as site administrator, are discussed using the consensus model that drives much of the site — but only people with accounts are allowed to weigh in. Other jobs, such as a seat on the Arbitration Committee which decides who’s being a jerk and how to apply various policies, and even the Board of Directors of the underlying non-profit, the Wikimedia Foundation, are voted on democratically in a very transparent process for which all registered users are eligible. (Transparency is a watchword for the entire project, by the way, which invites a higher level of criticism than is found just about anywhere else.)
Logging in conceals your IP address — the series of numbers which gives an inkling where your computer is located — from all but a few trusted users. Those few who have been given “checkuser” power use it solely to root out sockpuppets, additional accounts created by someone for fraudulent purpose. (The short answer on multiple accounts is don’t create more than one. There are some narrowly-defined reasons for it, but it’s easier just to not bother. One is enough.)
The watchlist is perhaps the single most important reason to create an account. You can watch any page on Wikipedia, and the watchlist provides you a list of the most recent changes made to those pages. This is a powerful tool, because it helps undo vandalism, remove bad information, and facilitates more collaboration to improve a particular article. Many Pagan pages are watched by very few editors, and some of them might have thousands of pages on the watchlists, so picking a few articles of personal importance to watch is much needed. Think of it as a stewardship role, not an ownership one: editors who act like they “own” an article are in for a fall, while good stewards are happy to work with other constructive editors who wish to follow the sources.
Why don’t you create an account today? You don’t even need to provide so much as an email address to do so (but don’t forget your password if you don’t provide one or it’s gone forever). It’s a quick, small step towards making a more powerful Pagan presence on Wikipedia.