The first thing I did on Wikipedia (under the username Wageless) was to make some not-very-good edits to the page on bovine somatotropin. I clicked the “edit this page” tab, and immediately had an odd, almost lightheaded feeling, as if I had passed through the looking glass and was being allowed to fiddle with some huge engine or delicate piece of biomedical equipment. It seemed much too easy to do damage; you ask, Why don’t the words resist me more? Soon, though, you get used to it. You recall the central Wikipedian directive: “Be Bold.” You start to like life on the inside.
After bovine hormones, I tinkered a little with the plot summary of the article on Sleepless in Seattle, while watching the movie. A little later I made some adjustments to the intro in the article on hydraulic fluid—later still someone pleasingly improved my fixes. After dessert one night, my wife and I looked up recipes for cobbler, and then I worked for a while on the cobbler article, though it still wasn’t right. I did a few things to the article on periodization. About this time I began standing with my computer open on the kitchen counter, staring at my growing watchlist, checking, peeking. I was, after about a week, well on my way to a first-stage Wikipedia dependency.
But the work that really drew me in was trying to save articles from deletion. This became my chosen mission. Here’s how it happened. I read a short article on a post-Beat poet and small-press editor named Richard Denner, who had been a student in Berkeley in the sixties and then, after some lost years, had published many chapbooks on a hand press in the Pacific Northwest. The article was proposed for deletion by a user named PirateMink, who claimed that Denner wasn’t a notable figure, whatever that means. (There are quires, reams, bales of controversy over what constitutes notability in Wikipedia: nobody will ever sort it out.) Another user, Stormbay, agreed with PirateMink: no third-party sources, ergo not notable.
Denner was in serious trouble. I tried to make the article less deletable by incorporating a quote from an interview in the Berkeley Daily Planet—Denner told the reporter that in the sixties he’d tried to be a street poet, “using magic markers to write on napkins at Cafe Med for espressos, on girls’ arms and feet.” (If an article bristles with some quotes from external sources these may, like the bushy hairs on a caterpillar, make it harder to kill.) And I voted “keep” on the deletion-discussion page, pointing out that many poets publish only chapbooks: “What harm does it do to anyone or anything to keep this entry?”
An administrator named Nakon—one of about a thousand peer-nominated volunteer administrators—took a minute to survey the two “delete” votes and my “keep” vote and then killed the article. Denner was gone. Startled, I began sampling the “AfDs” (the Articles for Deletion debate pages) and the even more urgent “speedy deletes” and “PRODs” (proposed deletes) for other items that seemed unjustifiably at risk; when they were, I tried to save them. Taekwang Industry—South Korean textile company—was one. A user named Kusunose had “prodded” it—that is, put a red-edged banner at the top of the article proposing it for deletion within five days. I removed the banner, signaling that I disagreed, and I hastily spruced up the text, noting that the company made “Acelan” brand spandex, raincoats, umbrellas, sodium cyanide, and black abaya fabric. The article didn’t disappear: wow, did that feel good.
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