* Okay, so it's actually an IAQ.
Who are you? I am Rivertorch. I come in peace.
Where are you? On the North American continent of a small blue planet, third from its star, in a solar system near the edge of the Milky Way.
What are you? Stardust. Billion-year-old carbon. Besides that, I'm a writer and sometime editor who fell under the spell of Wikipedia and has yet to emerge.
Why are you (here)? I have three honest answers to that: one sounds grandiose, another sappy, and the third pathetic. Therefore, I decline to answer except to reassure anyone who may be frightened: I mean no harm.
When are you here? There is no fixed schedule to my presence. On many days, I spend more time reading than contributing, so I might be here during a certain interval but have no edits to show for it. Sometimes real life intervenes, and I disappear for a while.
How many edits have you made? Click here and see.
How should other editors contact you? The best way is usually to leave a message on my talk page. Email is an option.
Why should other editors contact you? Any editor should feel free to contact me for any reason at all, as long as it's not to impugn my integrity as a Wikipedian or as a human being.
What do you do here? A bit of this and a byte of that: fixing typos, copyediting, doing the occasional rewrite, calling attention to problems I'm not sure how to fix, participating in discussions in order to seek consensus-based solutions to problems with article content or Wikipedia policy, reverting vandalism and other problematic edits, and so on. I enjoy turning vague, confusing, or clumsy prose into lively writing that communicates ideas with clarity and precision. I also like helping new editors when I get the chance. Recently, I've spent a lot more time responding to edit requests on semi-protected pages. Over the course of the year ending August 31, 2013, I answered 306 such requests and made the requested changes 81 times.
Are you a WikiGnome? A vandal-fighter? I'm a label-avoider.
Have you created any articles? To date, just three: Goudy Old Style, Berthold (company), and Rennie Airth. I keep meaning to create more but I get distracted. If I rubbed up a genie, one of my wishes would be for a long attention span, fewer on- and off-wiki distractions, and more hours in the day. I have a particularly bad habit of following one link after another after another until I realize with a jolt that I've been at it for hours and have done absolutely nothing except read. I do have a couple of articles, as well as several major rewrites, up my sleeve. Time will tell. . . .
Do you focus on any particular topics in the articles you edit? Not really. There is some correlation between subjects I'm interested in and some of the longtime articles on my watchlist, but mostly I stumble upon articles almost at random. And I avoid editing articles on topics that I know much about.
How come? I take the verifiability policy rather seriously and prefer not to risk what I know getting muddled up with what I can provide reliable sources to verify.
How about articles on people you know? With rare exceptions, I never edit articles on people I know. I'll revert blatant vandalism if I see it on such an article, but that's about it.
How would you describe your philosophy as a Wikipedian? Primum non nocere. Beyond that, I try to assume good faith.
Even in the face of obvious vandalism? Of course not, but there are many borderline cases and ambiguities, and there are even—occasionally—honest mistakes that look like intentional damage. So, whenever practical, I prefer to give my fellow editors the benefit of the doubt. To me, though, assuming good faith means more than that; it also means assuming that even when other editors do things I consider unhelpful or unkind, they are still worthwhile human beings.
Are they worthwhile editors, though? It's hard to generalize. Some people have temperaments that make them poor Wikipedians, although they may be good editors in other contexts. We're all human beings first, and while most of us take Wikipedia quite seriously, it shouldn't be the most important thing in our lives. One more thing about good faith, by the way: in return for assuming good faith of my fellow editors, I expect them to act in good faith.
So what do you really think about Wikipedia? I think it's a grand social experiment. It fascinates me.
Will it succeed? Precognition is not one of my major powers.
Give it your best guess. If our definition of success remains somewhat fluid, it will succeed. In several important ways, it already has. Since I made my first edit in 2004, I've watched the project grow from a "cool idea" into a serious reference work whose scope far exceeds the best print encyclopedias and whose quality often equals (and occasionally surpasses) them. My contributions to the project have been less than tremendous, but I'm glad to have done what I could and hope to do more.
What obstacles lie ahead? With a project this size, obstacles are inevitable. Some are unnecessary, however. Over the years I have been alarmed by what I see as biography of living persons policy concerns gone overboard.
How so? Vigorous enforcement of WP:BLP is necessary in order for the encyclopedia to maintain credibility and for the project to enjoy a responsible and humane relationship with society. Unfortunately, some editors seem to view the policy as a license to remove any content they view as negative from certain articles. Unchecked, such actions make comprehensiveness and neutrality impossible, leading to whitewashed articles that might as well have been written by p.r. consultants.
What are some other obstacles? Malicious editing is a perennial obstacle. Some of it—obvious vandalism, for instance—is easy enough to handle, albeit time-consuming. But things like furtive deletions and additions and rewordings that slant articles away from neutrality, sneaky introduction of deliberate factual errors . . . some of that can be very difficult to identify. And there just aren't enough qualified editors relative to the number of articles to stay on top of it. During the past several months, I've been disconcerted by the amount of time and energy I've seen being spent on civility enforcement.
What are your views on civility? Suffice it to say that civility is a good thing, but other qualities of human discourse are even better. It is quite possible to be thoroughly offensive and simultaneously remain perfectly civil; that's a phenomenon I encounter around here all too often.
If you were omnipotent, what changes would you make to Wikipedia and the way it operates? I wouldn't make changes; I'd propose them.
Come on! Even if you were omnipotent? Maybe all that power would corrupt me, but I hope not.
What changes would you propose? Requiring registration to edit. It's a perennial proposal, I realize, but I find myself at a loss when I try to understand why requiring editors to have accounts is considered antithetical to the "anyone can edit" credo. How hard is it to register, after all? I'd also propose that edit summaries be mandatory. It's a colossal waste of time trying to figure why certain edits were made when those responsible could simply give their rationales in the first place.
Are you an inclusionist or a deletionist? I think it's best to strike a balance. And, as I said before, I avoid labels.
Why do you avoid labels? Labels can constitute a useful sort of shorthand sometimes, but too often they lead to prejudgment and misunderstanding. When I'm working to preserve content, I'm hardly a deletionist, and when I'm working to delete content, I'm hardly an inclusionist. When I'm reverting vandalism, I'm not being a "content editor," and when I'm writing an article, I'm not being a WikiGnome. Who cares? I prefer not to specialize.
What are your biases? I'm biased against dull prose, oversimplification, hypocrisy, foolish consistency, mindless conformism, needless threats, narrow-mindedness, bigotry, pseudoscience, illogic, humorless mindsets, empty posturing, and calamari.
What is your greatest weakness as a Wikipedian? Hard to pick just one. I spend too much time reading about and discussing procedural matters that really aren't very important. Sometimes I expend lots of time and effort making principled stands over content questions that are quite trivial. Occasionally I give etiquette a miss and make a gratuitous ironic remark that annoys someone else and doesn't set a good example.
And your greatest strength? I can be a bit of a perfectionist. This doesn't stand me in good stead in terms of efficiency or time management, but it can be a useful attribute when it comes to refining content in an encyclopedia.
Any pet peeves? Officiousness. Annoying in real life, annoying on Wikipedia.
Any serious gripes? Now that you mention it, yes. On multiple occasions I've noticed unsubstantiated allegations of biased or agenda-driven editing being made against individuals or groups of editors who identify as LGBT or are active in WikiProject LGBT studies or watch certain articles on LGBT-related topics. Of course, the world is rife with unsubstantiated allegations, and Wikipedia is no exception. What bothers me is not so much the allegations themselves as their being made with impunity, sometimes left entirely unchallenged. That sort of non-response sends a decidedly negative message to many editors and to the world at large.
Do you have any advice for your fellow Wikipedians? Most of us have a shared objective: to build the best encyclopedia we possibly can. That's a tall order, but look how far we've come in just a few years. Despite innumerable squabbles and countless episodes of drama, the encyclopedia has grown and thrived. So I'd just say let's be kind to one another and remember why we're here. And let's use edit summaries!
Anything else you'd like to say? Yes. Consider the nature of encyclopedias. What are they? What are their purposes? It's just possible that encyclopedias—this encyclopedia—can change the world for the better in myriad ways. Changing the world isn't the objective here, but we can hope it's part of the outcome.
- ^ Jimbo and I disagree on this. I think that it can be lots of things, including an encyclopedia and a grand social experiment. It really is the latter, whether one wants it to be or not. Arguably, the Web itself is a grand social experiment. Or a cyber society, if you prefer. Whatever. Even well over a decade after the advent of the Web, it's still experimental. These are still heady days.
- ^ As an IP
- ^ I might note that I actually had trouble registering way back when, but I persevered. If I can do it . . .