Weekend Edit-A-Thon Puts Women In Wikipedia

Mar 8, 2016

A group of local women are taking on Wikipedia.

“The gender gap on Wikipedia really just boils down to most of the people who write on Wikipedia are men,” said Kelly Doyle, a librarian at West Virginia University and scholar on gender equality. "We're trying to ... get more women to write on Wikipedia and, as a result, have more articles and content about women."

Doyle drove to Pittsburgh on Saturday to join more than 100 participants in a day-long Wikipedia “edit-a-thon.”

Alexandra Oliver, writer and content creator for the Energy Innovation Center, co-hosted the local event, which was part of a worldwide campaign to add more female voices to Wikipedia content.

“So when I heard about this event, I thought it was a great idea, and it was surprising to me that Pittsburgh had not participated before,” Oliver said. “We thought it was time.”

Oliver has been contributing to Wikipedia for years, editing articles to include more citations about successful female researchers, scholars and, especially, artists. She said her mission is to close "a serious gender-gap online."

“We’ve increasingly become aware of the ways in which tech and online culture and digital culture are hostile to women,” Oliver said. “So, in the case of Wikipedia, this is reflected both in the content and the participation among the editorship.”

Oliver said only 15 percent of the biographical articles on the website are about women.

Because most of the participants at this weekend’s event were beginners, organizers started with a brief tutorial on what constitutes relevant content and sources.

A few men also participated, like Mark Howe from Open Pittsburgh, which advocates for access to governmental information. Howe said access shouldn’t be limited to gender.

“From a technology standpoint, obviously it’s male-dominated," he said. "What has to happen is a real understanding that there are more than just guys in the technology field interested in technology and interested in information.”

Co-organizer and self-described feminist Vicky Clark said she hoped events like the “edit-a-thon” draw attention to the significant contributions from women, especially in technology.

“Wikipedia is used by so many people,” Clark said. “If they don’t see women, they don’t think women did anything.”

To date, nearly 1,000 Wikipedia articles have been created or improved with new citations as a direct result of the annual “edit-a-thon.” Wikipedia supports and promotes the event, along with companies like Google, who also provided funding.

In this week's Tech Report calendar:

  • The man credited with inventing email has died. Internet pioneer Ray Tomlinson was 74 years old. Back in 1971, he came up with the idea of electronic messages that could be sent from one network to another. His invention included the @ symbol in email addresses. Tomlinson was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame four years ago. He died this weekend from a heart attack.
  • There’s some disappointing news for British Nook owners. Barnes and Noble has announced it will stop selling digital books in the UK next week.  The decision is the result of sluggish sales, which lag significantly behind competitor Amazon Kindle. Here in the here in the U.S., e-book sales were down as much as 10 percent last year, according to the Association of American Publishers.