Since many women wanted to know how Wikipedia works, I have written a quick 10-pointer on the feminists india list on basics. Sharing here.


Dear all,

I was waiting for Urvashi's article to appear before outlining about how Wikipedia works; Urvashi has explained some of it in her excellent article, which I have also forwarded to relevant wikipedia lists, tweeted and shared on FB (so that this can be noted).

Adding to her points and trying to anticipate some of your questions, I am structuring 'how wikipedia works' into 10 points for now. All questions welcome.

1)Wikipedia is the world's 5th biggest website, visited by almost 500 million readers each month - but created entirely by volunteers. We (meaning the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco/wikimedia chapters in 40 countries) do not pay writers or anyone to contribute to wikipedia; anyone contributing to wikipedia is called an 'editor'. Currently, there are about 80,000 editors around the world creating wikipedias in 285 languages, of which 20 are Indian languages. To see English wikipedia being created in real time, click this link: Each line represents a change being made to an article. If you refresh the page, you'll see how quickly new content keeps getting added.

2)This model of open knowledge has its own pros and cons. Biggest pro: it is a bottom-up grassroots model of gathering knowledge, based on the assumption that each of us has some knowledge (or 'expertise') that we can share with the world. The site is designed such that anyone who knows how to use a wiki can add content. So if you know how you can add facts, make it more accurate, correct spellings, add new information etc. This is how Wikipedia lives and grows and becomes better each day, through volunteer efforts.

3)Who are these editors? They're all around the world, ranging from students to senior citizens, men, women and trans persons. Unfortunately, we face a gender gap in wikipedia and the vast majority of editors are men. I've blogged about it here:

Over the last three years, we've been trying to recruit women to edit Wikipedia. In India, we've organized workshops for women to edit Wikipedia; globally, many efforts are ongoing. Let me know if anyone on this list are interested; can organize workshops. Or if you'll would like to audit some of the pages related to women and suggest improvements, we can see how this can be done. It would be wonderful if this list could seriously audit coverage of women in India on wikipedia. And it's worth it. See how many people have visited just the Bhanwari Devi page here:

4)An encyclopedia in which anyone can contribute what they want, anonymously or by name, without any credentials. Is this anarchy? It may seem like it, but it's not. All of us who edit wikipedia are expected follow three basic guidelines:
a)Neutral point of view (not subjective biases)
b)Verifiability (meaning references and citations)
c)No original research (instead we need reliable published sources)
In addition, each article is usually written in a flat, somewhat bland style which allows the information to surface, rather than the writing style.
Where biographies of living people (such as Bhanwari Devi) are concerned, even stricter standards are prescribed to avoid harm to a living subject. See
We are using these guidelines while cleaning up the Bhanwari Devi article.

5)So references or citations are the key to a good article, as is the case with academic articles. But what can be referenced? Not just anything on the net, but credible publications, research journals, scholarly publications, books etc - whether they exist online or offline. We can't use a person or institution's own website as a primary reference, since that may contain promotional content. We need external references. Sometimes these references are not easily available; a big challenge for editors. For example, in the Bhanwari Devi case, I need the original court judgement to cite from it, but can't find it anywhere. [Help, Kavita Srivastava]

6)So if you have the right references, how do you actually edit? You click the edit tab on any page at the top right hand. See here: This will take you to another page, which can look a bit confusing or intimidating, since it has code written on it:

There is an easier way to edit; using the Edit Beta tab instead, on the top right hand side, which opens an interface which has no visible code. Easiest way to try is to correct a spelling mistake or something like that, which is considered a minor edit. Follow the policies from point 4 to make more complex edits.

7)Can you edit anonymously? Yes. If you do not open an account to edit (like one does on Facebook or twitter), your internet protocol address gets recorded. If you do open an account, you can choose a username (mine is bishdatta) and you can create a user page, like this:
Other editors can then communicate with you on your 'user talk page'. For example, mine is here:
They can help you learn how to edit, hold your hand, collaborate with you on an article, let you know about workshops and meetings etc.

8)What if you spot a mistake or a problem in the article? Best thing to do is to leave a comment on the talk age of that article. Click tab called Talk on top left hand side of article. For example, in Bhanwari Devi's case, here: That will alert other editors. Alternately, contact a wikipedia editor you know and explain the problem; he or she will help if it violates wikipedia's guidelines (as this one clearly did).

9)Does this model really work? Yes, but any open knowledge model has inherent challenges. As a volunteer-managed site which is huge, it is a perennial work in progress; for example, English wikipedia alone has 4.5 million pages. So errors which creep in, such as the Bhanwari Devi one (which is a very significant and problematic one) only get fixed when these are spotted and someone volunteers to fix them.

10)But doesn't this kind of 'unvetted' system result in articles of low quality? Not necessarily. But each article is a work in progress until there are enough editors with enough time to improve these. We also have volunteers who routinely patrol articles, including new pages and remove rubbish, but it is not a perfect system. We need more volunteers to constantly keep improving this.

The best articles are called Featured Articles, which is the highest-quality rating for a wikipedia article. Each article that reaches this status has to go through peer reviews etc, and is featured on the home page daily. Today's featured article is here:
If you click and open it, you will see it is a well-researched article on Cyclone Joy. This is what we would like every article to get to, but many don't make it to this level, since it takes a lot of time and effort.

All questions welcome.


On Fri, Jun 27, 2014 at 12:17 PM, Bishakha Datta <> wrote:
Dear all,

A complaint about this page first surfaced on the feministsindia list on Saturday; Rohini and I are both members of this list. I've been cleaning the article in bits and pieces this week, but there's still much work ahead.

Do see the article on it that was posted on just now:

(Also posted to wikimedians working on india-related content in english list)