What Kenny Klein can teach Pagans . . . about Wikipedia

My work to encourage more Pagans to edit Wikipedia has stalled, probably because I tried to organize it into a series of tedious tutorials.  But when the Kenny Klein story broke, I added his Wikipedia entry to my watchlist, and realized that this one obscure article contains a wealth of lessons.  Here are a few:

  • Don’t write an article about yourself.  This is really frowned upon in the Wikipedia community, although an outsider usually doesn’t know any better.  Back in 2006, when the first draft was posted by user Kennyfiddler, it was actually pretty common, and no one even noticed he’d done it until 2013, at which point the article’s “talk page” was tagged with a note explaining the conflict of interest.
  • Nothing is forgotten.  As one might notice from some of the links I’ve provided already, a strength of Wikipedia is that every edit to every page ever is retained.  There are some rare exceptions, but that’s the rule.  It makes fighting vandalism easier because it’s possible to revert to an earlier version with a couple of clicks.  It’s also an astounding audit trail for any article or editor.
  • Don’t embellish the facts.  Promotional language is a surefire way to annoy Wikipedians.  We don’t need text list this (emphasis mine):

“Through his interest in British music, Klein discovered the Wiccan and Neopagan communities. He learned a great deal about traditional Scottish Witchcraft from New York merchant Eileen Campbell Gordon, and then joined the Blue Star coven and tradition of Wicca, becoming a High Priest within that tradition in 1983. He helped steer the Tradition towards a more traditional British form, discarding Alexandrian and ceremonial rituals and replacing them with British folkloric Craft practices, including the 8 Paths of Power, the 7 Tenets of Faith, and the Drawing Down of the Moon and Sun. Between 1983 and 1992 he and his wife, High Priestess Tzipora Klein (née Katz) were largely responsible for transforming Blue Star from a local coven to a Wiccan tradition of its own.[4] Touring the country during that period performing music, Kenny and Tzipora continued to teach Blue Star Wicca, initiating many people and founding many covens, at the same time recording and distributing lessons on cassette tapes.[5] Klein has continued to teach Traditional Wicca since then.”

The hard and fast rule for Wikipedia:  if it’s not in the sources, it shouldn’t be in the article.

  • Deletion can be a consequence.  In 2012 the article was nominated for deletion, a complex process in which editors debate Wikipedia policy until they reach consensus.  The nominator said, ” He wrote part of the article himself, describing himself twice in the third person as ‘a noted fiddler.'”  Many of the article’s references are to primary sources (things Klein wrote himself, mostly), which do not establish the ever-important notability.  Although it was ultimately kept, articles of lesser interest, such as many in the Pagan sphere, are vulnerable to deletion because the average editor won’t know where to find reliable sources.
  • Innocent until proven guilty.  Wikipedia has been burned more than once because articles about people weren’t entirely accurate.  There’s a rather rigorous policy on biographies of living persons which demands rigorous checking of sources.  In this case, it means that it is not appropriate to include details about Klein’s arrest until his case is decided in court, despite the fact that he apparently confessed.
  • Wikipedia is an alphabet soup.  The site has a vast array of policies, guidelines, and conventions, all of which are referred to (and, more helpfully, usually linked to) with some kind of alphabetic mishmash.  The policy on living people is called BLP, for example.  If an editor refers to something in all caps such as NOTNEWS or TOOSOON, e is not shouting; e is referring to an essay, guideline, or policy.  If it’s not linked, you can find it quickly in the search bar.  Type WP: before the term to ensure you get results from outside the article space; the various opinions and policies all live in a different place, and the WP: will get you there.

Wikipedia needs more Pagan editors to learn its policies and participate in editing articles.  It’s not the most user-friendly site, but it’s possible to learn.  Ask me any questions you like and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Wikipedia 101: sources, sources, sources

The exciting news that there’s going to be a peer-reviewed reconstructionist magazine got me thinking about Wikipedia for Pagans again.

“Air n-Aithesc:  Our Message is a peer-reviewed magazine that hopes to offer well researched material for Celtic Reconstructionists and others who value the role of academics as much as they value the role of the spiritual in their practice.

The magazine’s main aim is to offer as many resources as possible, from research articles to in depth explorations of how personal experiences fit in with the sources, book reviews, and much more.”

This is going to support a meaningful Pagan presence on Wikipedia more than anything else, hands down.  Why?  Because peer-reviewed sources.  They are the highest echelon of wonderful in the Wikipedia worldview.  To a Wikipedian, truth is not as important as verifiability.

“Even if you’re sure something is true, it must be verifiable before you can add it.”

For an academic, this should not be so hard to grasp:  what’s the quality of your source?  Let’s consider a self-serving example, a mythical article on Wikipedia and Paganism.  As with any article on the site, having sources = better likelihood that the edit (or even the entire page) will stick around.  Those sources could include this very blog post, an article on CNN iReport, one from the New York Times, and something you found in a pile of dusty research journals at the local university library.  So how verifiable are they?

  • My blog post:  not very, because what I write goes live without any other eyes looking at it.  If I cited sources of my own, you can check them out, but blog posts should be taken as opinion and nothing more.
  • The iReport article isn’t much better; per the site itself:  “The stories here are not edited fact-checked or screened before they post. CNN’s producers will check out some of the most compelling, important and urgent iReports and, once they’re cleared for CNN, make them a part of CNN’s news coverage.”  It’s that fact-checking and editing that makes a source verifiable; someone took a look to make sure it wasn’t all made up.
  • The New York Times has editors.  So do weekly papers, but the Gray Lady has a robust staff that is trained to make sure nothing is printed without being checked.  Misteaks happen, but not so often.
  • That research journal is pure, peer-reviewed gold.  Some smart researcher wrote up his or her findings, and then a bunch of researchers in the same field picked it apart for accuracy and methodology.  It’s about as good a source as an encyclopedia could get.

And that’s why I am excited that there is to be a peer-reviewed journal focusing on a Pagan religion, because the scholarship it produces will be tailor-made for using in Wikipedia articles on Paganism.  So much of what we do and experience has not had serious scholarship applied, so it can be challenging to establish notability for the movers in this community, much less the concepts.

Better sources is part of the solution.  More Pagans editing Wikipedia, Pagans who understand the Byzantine structure of the site and its rules, will help more.  There’s actually a page to organize the work already, but it’s dangerously inactive.  That, however, is another bite at the apple.

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

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.

Wikipedia 101: creating an account

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?

The Wikipedia logo with colors inverted.

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
  • Upload images
  • 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.

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

Wikipedia 101: the sandbox

The place to experiment with editing Wikipedia is called the sandbox.  It’s aptly named, because the letters you write in this sand will get written over by other users; periodically, like a big wave, a program script comes along and wipes the whole thing clean.  It’s also a good place to start because it’s a reminder that change is a constant in Wikipedia; both the software and the rules create by the human editors are always evolving, and if you don’t visit the site very often, both can seem alien in short order.

Visit the Wikipedia sandbox, and click on the blue link that says “edit” to begin.  When you’re done, click the “save page” button down at the bottom, and whatever you’ve typed will forever become a part of Wikipedia.

Well . . . yes and no.  As noted above, other users may come along and remove/change/append to your work, and on this page in particular, all the text gets removed automatically from time to time.  However, nothing is ever really lost on the internet, and on Wikipedia, this is particularly easy to see:  just click on the link marked view history to see just about everything ever done to this page since it was created in December, 2002.

The sandbox may become one of your most familiar haunts as you learn about editing Wikipedia, because it’s a safe way to experiment with using the ever-changing MediaWiki software that powers the site.  The lesson of the sandbox is that no edit cannot be undone, but a history of all of those edits is kept forever like a Domesday Book.

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

Wikipedia, and why Pagans should care about it

A bit of a kerfuffle over at Wikipedia over the summer got my attention:  an editor with an agenda against Pagans was caught doing all sorts of abusive things on the site.  The story inspired me to lead discussions at a couple of Pagan events about the importance of there being Wikipedia editors in our community, which lead directly to this post.  But let’s start out with why the editor known as Qworty was, and was not, such a big deal to Pagans.

As a Wikipedia editor, Qworty was an all-around ass.  He didn’t like Pagans, it’s true, but he also didn’t like more successful authors, outspoken critics of any number of topics, and, so far as I can tell, the Wikipedia bureaucracy itself.  He skillfully gamed the system to push his agenda, editing articles, nominating many for deletion, and frequently participating in the ensuing discussion from multiple accounts, which is a big no-no.  Critics of Wikipedia consider him to be the poster child of the site’s problems.

Qworty’s abuses went well beyond attacks on the entries of notable Pagans, but it’s those attacks that made me realize that there is safety in numbers.  Numbers of editors, that is.  Articles about Pagans tend to receive a little bit less traffic than, for example, the entry on Barack Obama, and the crowdsourcing model works less well as a result.  Erroneous information may last far longer, and deletion discussions — in which participating editors must reach consensus about whether or not a given article is notable, or should be given the axe — tend to have fewer informed participants.

In short, without more editors familiar with Pagan topics on the site, articles about Pagan topics are more likely to go awry.

The English language Wikipedia does have a systemic bias:  most of the editors are middle-aged white guys, likely with a bit of a paunch and short hair.  It also has a bureaucratic bias:  even getting one’s first edits to stick around can be difficult, and figuring out how to participate in the various processes involves wading through pages of policies, confusing shorthand, and slick logical fallacies.

On the other hand, it’s the sixth-largest site on the internet, and information on Wikipedia is copies (“mirrored”) on many sites, and referenced by countless others.  So just because no one who is informed about Pagan topics and Wikipedia policies is there in the discussion doesn’t mean it isn’t being seen by millions of people who don’t know any better.

Pagans need to participate in Wikipedia, because Wikipedia is one of the first places people turn to when they have questions they want answered on any topic.  Its crowdsourcing model tends to be skewed by the low number of editors familiar with Paganism, and the high number of editors familiar with dismissive skepticism.  I asked for input about this question in Wikipedia’s Wikiproject Neopaganism back in July, but as a testament to the low number of participating Pagans, I still have yet to receive a response to that request for feedback.

Wikipedia for Pagans


While I had intended on this post being a distillation of my lecture/discussion, I realize that there’s not enough room for that in a well-crafted blog entry.  What we really need is a tutorial.  So, gods willing, I am spending more time on the site after some months of inactivity, so that I might guide my Pagan brethren through the site.

Wikipedia 101

These posts will include basic information on how to use Wikipedia, reorganizing the vast — sometimes overwhelmingly so — information available in the site’s help pages.  This list will probably get rearranged as I add to it.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, a yearlong exploration of spirituality.  This specific post is brought to you by the letter W.