There’s a random guy who, as a hobby, has made one million Wikipedia edits. I speak with him about his motivation, Wikipedia as a source and whether editing it gets you the ladies.
This year, April 20th was declared Justin Knapp Day. (It’s also Adolf Hitler and Barney Gumbel’s birthdays, but it can be three things.)
I know it was Justin Knapp Day because Wikipedia said so. In fact, they were the only ones saying so. But at this point, they dictate the information that coagulates into our collective reality, so if they say it’s Justin Knapp Day, it’s Justin Knapp Day.
And it was named Justin Knapp Day by Wikipedia because 29-year-old Justin Knapp of Indianapolis, Indiana, had just become the first person to make one million Wikipedia edits. He’s not employed by the Wikimedia Foundation. He’s just a guy who decided he was going to edit the hell out of the public encyclopedia. So he did it, to a wild degree.
I wanted to know more. So I tracked him down for an 11-question interview. Here are the answers from my 11 questions with the first person to make 1,000,000 edits on Wikipedia.
1 | So… um… why?
“I edit Wikipedia for two reasons. First off, it’s a hobby — I find it relaxing and enjoyable. Furthermore, the more important reason is that it’s a way of expressing my values: I believe in liberty, free education, egalitarianism, sharing and community. And so do the other editors at Wikipedia.”
2 | Do you remember your first change?
“Before I had a login, I edited anonymously. I’ve tracked down most if not all of my anonymous edits. I’ve traced back this edit to the article on the political status of Taiwan, but I feel like my first edit was to something related to Western Sahara in late 2004.”
3 | What’s your best or most memorable change?
Sam’s note: You’ve got to wonder what George Orwell would say about involuntary inclusion in a global database fueled by the minds of the masses.
4 | On the path to one million, what’s the most embarrassing topic you can remember editing?
“I always try to add edits that are in their own way constructive, but I’m sometimes reminded of how trivial they are. I just spent several minutes looking for pictures to use on the Rachel haircut article, but I wasn’t successful. That is embarrassing for several reasons.”
5 | About how much time do you spend on this per day?
“On almost every day, I’ll spend several hours with some days being a good 16. If you were to actually get a mean for all hours spent over all days, it would probably be something like four or five hours a day for the past seven years.”
Sam’s note: I decided to try the math on this. Let’s say 4.5 hours a day for the past seven years. That’s 4.5 hours per day for 2,557 days (including two leap days). That’s 11,506.5 hours, or an average of just around 87 edits per hour. That’s 1.45 changes per minute. That seems pretty high. Although I guess you can make a lot of changes quickly if you’re focusing on just one topic? I don’t have the chops for that efficiency of Wikipedia editing. Just writing this paragraph took like four minutes.
6 | Now that your Wikipedia editing skills have gotten so much press, have you, in a meta, mirror-facing-a-mirror-facing-a-mirror way, hit the notability guidelines required to land you in Wikipedia?
“Not yet, thank God, because a person has to be notable for more than one event. There are some Wikipedia personalities with articles, but it’s unlikely that I will ever be able to rate.”
7 | Could you turn this into a career?
“I don’t know that I have the ambition or imagination to do that. Others have, though… I actually have used my work on Wikipedia to try to get employment before, but it was never successful.”
Sam’s note: I bet it will in the future. Every person in the history of job interviews has claimed they’re dedicated… but how many have such stunning and incomprehensible empirical evidence to back that up? Just this guy, and maybe that dude with 2,200 Disney tattoos.
8 | Do you think Wikipedia is a reliable enough source to be cited in court documents or research papers?
“Wikipedia should essentially function like the best bibliography on Earth — every claim should be sourced. If it’s not, treat that claim like you would any unsourced claim in any other venue. If you’re trying to use a general-interest encyclopedia for (e.g.) drug interaction information or stock tips, then you’re looking in the wrong place. If you’re looking to get a good overview of the Czech Republic, association football in Venezuela, or the history of wikis, then this is probably a good venue. Many critics of Wikipedia simply don’t understand what its function is intended to be, but if you have a clear concept of what constitutes encyclopedic knowledge and a little bit of common sense, that will get you far.”
9 | Has this made you fantastic at trivia? A contender for Jeopardy?
“I have my moments, but I’ve made a serious attempt over the past two or three years to always point out the source of my information when I speak and if I have source amnesia, I try to couch my claims in terms of what I can recall rather than what’s true. Consequently, I am much less confident about my knowledge than I was years ago. Inquiry is more a process of learning how ignorant you are than anything else.”
Sam’s note: Which to me translates: He’s going to hustle you if you play him in Trivial Pursuit. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
10 | Other than this incredible interview, what other accolades have come your way since you became Wikipedia’s first million-item editor?
“I’ve had numerous media inquiries, a few short-term editing job offers, a call from Encyclopedia Britannica, and several awards on Wikipedia itself, including the highest honor that one can receive: a holiday from the site’s co-founder Jimmy Wales. All of those have been very sweet and are appreciated, but the most meaningful by far have been the kind words from persons close to me.”
11 | Does this impress the ladies?
“If it has, it’s news to me. Maybe they’re so impressed that they’re speechless.”