Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2017-11-24/Interview

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A featured article centurion: Brianboulton talks about featured articles on his 100th promotion.
Lossy-page1-2658px-Nelson's Pillar, Sackville-Street, Dublin RMG PU3914 (cropped).jpg
Nelson's Pillar, c. 1830
Scott of the Antarctic crop.jpg
Robert Falcon Scott
Bottomley-trafalgar-square.jpg
Horatio Bottomley

With the promotion of S. O. Davies to a featured article (FA) in 2016, Brianboulton became Wikipedia's third featured article centurion. Despite having semi-retired from content creation in recent years, he remains an active user, and still produces the occasional FA.

  • When did you first start editing Wikipedia? What first got you interested?
  • I first became aware of Wikipedia in its early days, and would sometimes look things up. I did occasional edits as an IP – the earliest I can now trace is dated December 2005, but there are probably earlier ones. I began to appreciate WP's potential as an information source, and thought I could contribute something, so I registered this username in November 2007.
  • How did you feel when you got your first featured article approved?
  • Surprised. Back in 2008 I had no ambitions beyond GA for my polar article on the Ross Sea party 1914–1917, but someone suggested I try it at FAC. Looking at the FAC review now, I'd say I got an easy ride, and I've certainly had to update and improve the article to bring it up to today's more exacting FA standards. But the experience got my enthusiasm going, and other articles soon followed.
  • You are one of Wikipedia's most prolific featured content contributors. Could you describe your method (i.e. how you get an article to FA status)?
  • Well, I have a wide range of interests. I look out for topics in these favourite fields which are unrepresented or underdone in WP, and set about creating or expanding the article in question. The first stage is background reading and research, in particular identifying the best sources to be used. That's a tremendous learning process, I've found. I begin to draft text in sandboxes, moving to mainspace as things begin to take shape. It's quite a difficult balancing act to be thorough and concise at the same time; my advice is generally to err on the side of concision. I'll seek feedback through the peer review process before final polishing – it's usually a mistake to jump into the FAC process without prior review, however experienced an editor you are.
  • What are you most proud of doing in Wikipedia?
  • "Proud" isn't a word I'd use. I like to think I've improved the quality of content in some areas, such as polar exploration, opera, political history, etc., and I've enjoyed a number of collaborations with other editors thus widening my range of knowledge. I hope that through my reviewing I've helped to raise the standards of our best work. I am pleased that I helped to launch the mentoring scheme whereby first-time editors at FAC get guidance through what can seem an intimidating process. I also enjoyed my stint as a TFA coordinator and would do that again if the need arose.
  • What are the major frustrations of editing Wikipedia?
  • Wikipedia has changed a lot in the last ten years. Most of the editors I worked with in my most productive years have either retired altogether or have reduced their involvement, so that I no longer have the feeling I once had of being part of a kind of online common room, among colleagues with shared interests and goals. Too much time is spent by editors following their private hobby-horses – the recurrent dispute over infoboxes is a case in point – rather than pursuing the common objective of improving the encyclopedia with due respect for the opinions of others. I have observed regrettable cases of largely unpunished bullying. Overall, it seems that enthusiasm has been replaced by indifference; for example, it is painful to see how long some quite excellent articles have to wait at PR or FAC before they get any attention.
  • Building on the above question, what is the most prominent change you have seen in your many years here?
  • On the positive side, the standard of featured articles has undoubtedly risen – the review process is generally more thorough, there is very little nodding through or fan-based support, although I think the process is now unnecessarily slow. I'm sad that subjects that used to be among our strongest content areas, such as Literature and Ancient History, scarcely appear now, and I'm not keen on an apparent over-emphasis on articles concerned with video games or TV series. Also, the loss of experienced content editors seems to shifted the balance of power in Wikipedia towards what Kipling called "The Gods of the Copybook Headings". Far too much time and effort is wasted over the attempted resolution of trivial disputes more concerned with process than content. Maybe this was always the case and I just didn't notice when I was newer in the game.
  • What do you think is the most common mistake made by editors?
  • I think a common mistake among newer editors has been their interpretation of the "anyone can edit" principle as giving them the unrestricted right to make changes or additions to articles without consultation or regard to the effect on the article as a whole. The adding of unsourced trivia to featured articles is a bane that requires constant housekeeping attention.
  • Do you ever get tired?
  • I'm sure we all do.
  • What is the most interesting piece of trivia you have learned in your time here?
  • Goodness, I've encountered so many bits of trivial knowledge (some of it deeply interesting, by the way) during my article reviewing that it's difficult to answer this question. It's in the nature of trivia that it's quickly forgotten. But among the scraps I do remember are that Sir Thomas Beecham supported Blackburn Rovers FC, that the composer Delius was a promising fast bowler in his youth, and followed England's Test side all his life, and that Michael Tippett and Malcolm Sargent shared a piano tutor called Miss Tinkler.
  • Where do you see yourself, and Wikipedia as a whole in five years? Ten years?
  • I think Wikipedia will still be here, but perhaps in a different form. The commercial potential of a website with millions of daily hits is enormous, so maybe somewhere along the line the Wikimedia Foundation will decide to cash its billion-dollar chips in? Who knows? As to myself, I'll carry on as long as I continue to get some satisfaction from my involvement. I'm not as active in content creation as I once was; two or three major articles a year is about my limit. My main activities now are reviewing, mentoring, and refreshing and updating my earlier articles; how long I'll continue to do this is anyone's guess, but five years seems an awfully long time, and ten more years is very hard to envisage!
  • Anything else you'd like to add?
  • A thanks to you, for keeping Signpost going, and my very good wishes

Thank you so much for your time. I look up to you as someone to aspire to be, and I'm sure the Wikipedia community feels similarly.


Featured content from Brianboulton, 2008–2017