Edit-a-thons ... are they worth it? Women in Red (WiR) thinks so and here’s two months' worth of reasons why. Women in Red is a task force of WikiProject Women. Its goal is to correct the gender gap that is currently present in Wikipedia’s coverage of biographies about women. Only about 15% of all English-language biographies are about women, and Women in Red is addressing this by creating new articles from "redlinked lists". Two recent successes are the Women in Architecture edit-a-thon with the Guggenheim Museum, and the Wikiproject Women Wikipedia Design (WikiD), and Women in Science edit-a-thon with the New York Academy of Sciences.
Women architects spike forty percent
The first edit-a-thon took place in October 2015. Pharos, who is currently serving as a Wikipedian in residence at the Guggenheim Museum, approached Women in Red in August regarding a possible edit-a-thon collaboration centered on women architects and designers. WiR was about forty days old at the time, and had never hosted a virtual edit-a-thon; but two events were in the planning stage for September, one with the Smithsonian. A month later, with two edit-a-thons wrapped up, WiR began online coordination, redlist development, and promotion of the women architects event. Twenty-four editors signed up to participate in the online edit-a-thon, scheduled for Thursday–Sunday, 15–25 October. Many editors couldn't wait and jumped into editing once the project page was set up in September.
In addition to the edit-a-thon at the Guggenheim, about a dozen other in-person events were held at museums, architectural associations and universities around the world, which synched with WiR's online efforts.
The Guggenheim / WikiD / WiR architecture edit-a-thon led to an amazing 40% spike in biographies about women in architecture. The rate of growth was tracked using Quarry. This was found through an analysis and timeline of all women in architecture articles on English Wikipedia, from the very first article in 2001/2002 (for Maya Lin), until the two month campaign in September-October 2015:
- Regular editing
- 2015 campaign
Science jumps to the fore with over 200 new articles
Buoyed by the success of the architecture edit-a-thon, Pharos approached WiR regarding another collaboration, this time regarding women in science. Rosiestep met with Pharos and a New York Academy of Sciences member at WikiConUSA and discussed event dates and redlink lists.
The New York Academy of Sciences' week-long edit-a-thon was launched on November 22 and took place from 1–5 pm (ET). Virtual attendees also participated. Seven new articles were created and 28 were improved. The live event was promoted through the NYC Wikipedia Meetup. Eight individuals were confirmed to physically attend and six participated remotely. Of the remote editors, several were active in the WikiProject Women umbrella and active with WiR. Other editors were invited to participate through various related active WikiProjects.
The WiR virtual event took place throughout November in collaboration with Keilana's WikiProject Women Scientists. It included an "early start", where participants contributed articles before the kick-off of the event; this phase involved the creation or improvement of 75 articles. The bulk of the event took place between November 8 and the end of the month. Participants worked on 266 articles, most of which were new and the rest significantly improved. A total of 38 participants added their names to the edit-a-thon list. The event also culminated in 57 "Did You Know" features. In addition to the articles that ran on the front page, several others were queued for approval.
Teamwork, online and offline
The WiR project worked very well as a team. As one participant put it, there was "Lots of gnoming going on behind the scenes." A crowd-sourced list of redlinks was prepared that separated the scientists by both discipline and nationality. Several participants worked on editing articles for clarity as well as creating their own. Others helped to create Wikidata entries and to translate many articles from other-language Wikipedias. Several others participated in the Did You Know process and added categories. The event was again set up by Rosiestep and Ipigott as a meetup page. The promotion phase included more invitations than before, and the thank-you notes after the event closed included promotion of the upcoming December event: Women in Religion.
Individuals involved mentioned how important it is to represent women’s accomplishments in Wikipedia. In a follow-up on why people participated, one wrote: “It is critical that the role models of the past and present be represented. Far too many notable women are not included in traditional compilations and sources.” The staff at the New York Academy of Sciences considered their physical edit-a-thon a success as well, and plan to pursue larger projects on Wikipedia. To give an idea of the experience, a remote participant wrote, “I chose a file from the list which had an article on another language WP. After translating and documenting with sources, I asked if any native speakers could check my translations. Two editors copyedited the piece. I discovered that there was no category for the award she had received and asked if anyone could help. A third editor created the category and discovered several other files that could be added to the category. Then another editor asked if they could nominate the file for Did You Know? and a 5th editor approved it. It was an effective collaboration, with some people I knew on WP and others I didn’t just jumping in to help.”
Some hurdles we faced involved making the redlink lists readable and user-friendly. Where possible, links to reliable sources were added next to the names so newer editors had a place to get started. Some articles were nominated for deletion; however, most survived the articles for deletion (AfD) process. These articles, created by newer editors unfamiliar with the notability guidelines, were improved by adding references that proved notability. Experienced editors helped the newer ones get through the AfD process so they could move on to creating better articles.
"I've participated in online edit-a-thons and in-person ones, but this collaborative model has the best results in terms of participation and content production," says Rosiestep. Over the course of conducting these edit-a-thons, almost 140 different editors from various areas of Wikipedia have signed up to participate. Twenty individuals have participated in more than one edit-a-thon. Women in Red has seen an influx of editors with different perspectives and ideas which has helped provide a diversity in biographies created. There are a large number of editors who have participated in the edit-a-thons who are not part of WiR, although several have used the WiR talk pages to communicate with members of the task force relating to the project.
One of the reasons these edit-a-thons may have been so successful is because the WiR group are very supportive of each other’s work. Everyone is willing to lend a hand to new editors and to help out experienced editors with new subject areas. It’s a place where people can ask for help and often receive a response right away. Both men and women are involved in WiR, and there is a relaxed atmosphere of camaraderie. In addition, working along with established learned institutions such as the New York Academy of Sciences may have lent more publicity to the project as a whole. Creating and significantly improving 369 articles between the two edit-a-thons is a significant boost to addressing the content gender gap on Wikipedia. As one editor put it, WiR’s combination of online and offline edit-a-thons builds “mutual momentum that makes a big difference.” According to Keilana, “The main lesson from this was that virtual edit-a-thons can provide some of the camaraderie of an in-person event and still allow people to participate from all over the world.”
These events, and others like them, have shown that we can make a difference to a big problem on Wikipedia. On 21 November, the Wikipedia gender indicators project (WIGI) reported that the number of women’s biographies had risen to 15.89%. Though the gap is still large, chipping away at it with editathons will make a difference. No one expects the gap to go away entirely—that would be a false representation of history—but it can be lessened. One editor said: “I had never realized there were so many important and vibrant women in history.” Bringing the accomplishments of women into Wikipedia is not just important, but is inspiring to many of the editors working on the project. If you're looking to be part of this movement on Wikipedia, keep an eye out for Women in Red's music edit-a-thon in January, our Black WikiHistory Month edit-a-thon campaign for February, and the Art+Feminism edit-a-thon campaign for International Women’s Month in March.