Wikipedia 101: watching articles

The best — perhaps only — reason I’d like to see more Pagans create Wikipedia accounts is so they can keep an eye on articles of interest to the Pagan community.  The process is literally called watching articles, and it’s done using the watchlist.  Simple enough?

Once you log in to your account, this is your Wikipedia watchlist.  It’s a running log of every change recently made to articles you’re interested in, or watching.  Let’s discuss why watching articles is a good thing, then dig into the mechanics of doing it.

The MediaWiki software which powers Wikipedia never forgets anything.  That’s actually true with virtually anything you save online these days, but Wikipedia uses it as a strength, rather than treating it like a dirty little secret.  In the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, everyone can see each of those edits because every version of every page is saved on the site’s servers.  (If you think that this must take a huge amount of memory, you’re right.)

Keeping every version of every page means you can compare the revisions to see what’s changed, which makes catching vandals fairly routine and easy to correct — there’s an undo feature that handily resets the page to the version before someone replaced the entire text with “poop poop poop poop poop poop.”  (In fact, spotting juvenile vandals who do things like that is so easy that automated programs, or “bots,” generally revert the damage within seconds.)

But all that info needs to be organized, and the way changes are listed is from newest to oldest.  Visit the recent changes on the left-hand side of the page and you’ll see the very newest changes to articles on the site.  Click the history link for the article on Theodish politician Dan Halloran and you’ll see the most recent changes for that article only.  Your watchlist shows the most recent changes for whichever articles you’ve decided to follow closely.  You’ve curated your own selection of articles, choosing those over which you would like to exercise some stewardship.  The watchlist makes it easier for you to notice changes to those articles, and to follow discussions editors have about them.

So how do you watch an article?  There are two ways.

  1. Visit the article page directly and click the “watch” link near the top of the screen.  You can find articles of interest by typing terms into the search box, or following links from other articles, including the category links at the bottom.  (Here’s a quirk for you:  in Wikipedia, blue links point to other pages on the site and red links point to pages that don’t exist, since creating is part of editing.  You can watch a page that doesn’t exist, and be one of the first editors to find out when the article is written!)
  2. Automatically watch every page you edit.  This is done in the preferences, which can also be found at the top of any page.
Any article can be removed from the watchlist by clicking “unwatch” at the top of the article’s page.

This post is part of a series on Wikipedia for Pagans, a series of tutorials about and reports on why Pagans should edit Wikipedia.

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