I just edited my first Wikipedia entry

by bledsoe on May 19, 2008

I have wanted to edit a Wikipedia entry for a long time. How cool it must be, I thought, to know enough about a particular topic, even a relatively obscure or unimportant topic, that I might actually have something useful to contribute to an encyclopedia entry on it. That would be like being an actual expert on the topic, and experts are of course widely respected and admired for their expertise, and what's not to like about respect and admiration? Granted, there are a ton of Wikipedia entries on a ton of topics, and some are arguably less impressive than others from an academic perspective, but still, if you're an expert you're an expert, right?

The entry I edited was variable, a concept familiar to algebra students, computer programmers, and many others. The change I made was in the "In applied statistics" section of the entry. As part of some recent work I have been doing related to a particular statistical procedure, I had had occasion to refresh my understanding of the statistical concept known as level of measurement, which turns out to be (marginally) related to the notion of discrete vs. continuous variables.

During my online research, I discovered that the Wikipedia entry for variable noted, almost in passing, that the discrete/continuous distinction was the same as level of measurement. I didn't think it was, and a little more research confirmed that it wasn't, and before I knew it I had my first opportunity to edit a Wikipedia entry.

I had always heard how easy it is to edit an entry, and I have to agree that it was pretty easy. The whole process took about half an hour, and it only took me that long because I wanted to read some of their FAQs to make sure I wasn't going to mess anything up. The FAQs tell you that you don't need to create an account (though I did anyway) or participate in any lengthy documentation of your edits (though I did anyway). In fact, the Wiki folks actually encourage you to "be bold in updating pages." Unless your edit is going to be to a highly visible or controversial entry, it's more trouble than it's worth to try to get a discussion going about the merits of your change. Better to just make the change in good faith, and trust that if you mess something up, it will be fixed pretty quickly by one of the many other volunteer editors.

While I don't really anticipate that fame and glory will follow from my brief foray into crowdsourced encyclopedia editing, it was a neat experience and I'm glad I finally got to participate.

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