1. Key Takeaways
- The case for Wikipedia editing in a nutshell: Wikipedia articles are widely read and trusted, there is much low hanging fruit for improvement, and editing Wikipedia has low barriers to entry and is relatively low effort. Consequently, improving a Wikipedia article may benefit the reasoning and actions of its thousands, and often millions, of readers. Moreover, since Wikipedia is a global public good, improvements to Wikipedia are likely undersupplied relative to the socially optimal level.
- Careful prioritisation is crucial. Improving or creating some Wikipedia articles could easily be 100x to 1,000x as valuable as others. The key factors to consider for prioritisation are (i) pageviews, (ii) audience, (iii) topic, (iv) room for improvement, and (v) language.
- Respecting Wikipedia community rules and norms is key. The Wikipedia community is wary of people making edits to promote a particular idea, person, or organisation, especially when there are relevant conflicts of interest. Consequently, edits that violate Wikipedia rules and norms may be actively harmful and are likely to be deleted. However, there are currently still very many genuine gaps in the quality and coverage of Wikipedia articles, and filling these gaps tends to work well and is regarded highly.
- Contributing to or starting a WikiProject on an important topic may be valuable. A WikiProject is a group of contributors who want to work together as a team to improve Wikipedia. A WikiProject allows for more efficient collaboration, by providing a centralised place where interested editors can make plans and discuss proposals.
- There are self-interested reasons to edit Wikipedia. In particular, Wikipedia editing can be really fun, it is a great opportunity to learn more about a topic, it may help you improve your writing, and it may be a useful signal in some communities or for some professional opportunities.
- Some EA-relevant content is better suited to a specialised EA Wiki than to Wikipedia. For instance, content that is too niche to meet Wikipedia’s notability requirements.
Please note that much of this post is not original, drawing on existing writing (see the “Relevant Resources” section). However, I felt it was important to add to, synthesise and popularise these ideas here on the forum. Any mistakes are my own.
2. Respecting Wikipedia Rules
Before giving the positive argument for Wikipedia editing, I want to stress the importance of becoming familiar with and respecting the rules and norms governing Wikipedia editing.
Lack of familiarity with the relevant rules and norms is one of the main reasons editors have their contributions reverted. The most important ones include:
- Neutral point of view: “All Wikipedia articles (...) must be written from a neutral point of view, representing significant views fairly, proportionately and without bias.”
- Verifiability: “Material challenged or likely to be challenged, and all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source.”
- No original research: “Wikipedia does not publish original thought (...) Articles may not contain any new analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position not clearly advanced by the sources.”
- Notability: “Article and list topics must be notable, or “worthy of notice”. (...) if no reliable, independent sources can be found on a topic, then it should not have a separate article.”
- Conflict of interest (COI): “COI editing involves contributing to Wikipedia about yourself, family, friends, clients, employers, or your financial and other relationships. (...) COI editing is strongly discouraged on Wikipedia.”
- Paid-contribution disclosure: “If you are paid in any way for contributing to Wikipedia, disclose it. (...) those with a conflict of interest, including paid editors, are very strongly discouraged from directly editing affected articles”
Most importantly, Wikipedia is not a soapbox or means of promotion:
“Content hosted in Wikipedia is not for: Advocacy, propaganda, or recruitment of any kind: commercial, political, scientific, religious, national, sports-related, or otherwise. An article can report objectively about such things, as long as an attempt is made to describe the topic from a neutral point of view.”
In light of these rules, Tomasik (2013) notes:
We should not use Wikipedia as a self-promotional tool. Doing so would be one easy way to make enemies and hurt our cause. However, what we can do is notice the (sometimes significant) lacunae in the material that is available on Wikipedia and selectively add those topics that we think would have the highest social value if they were more widely known.
Therefore, anyone considering making contributions to Wikipedia should become familiar with its rules, and in particular adhere to the requirement not to approach editing as an advocacy tool. This is important both because trying to paint an overly favourable picture of EA-related topics will, as Brian notes above, likely backfire, and because observing such a requirement is in line with EA's commitment to intellectual honesty and moral cooperation. Wikipedia is one of the world’s greatest altruistic projects—their contributors share many of our core values, and we should respect their norms and efforts to maintain Wikipedia’s high quality.
3. Why You Should Consider Editing Wikipedia
Importance of Wikipedia Editing
Wikipedia articles tend to get very many pageviews. Wikipedia is the thirteenth most popular site on the web and “the printed encyclopedias of the past, although well‐known and much used, never came close to this level of general usage” (Haider and Sundin, 2021) . For the great majority of people, editing Wikipedia will get their writing (vastly) more readers than if they used the same time to write, for example, blog posts, social media posts, magazine articles, or books.
Wikipedia articles perform very highly on search engines, frequently placing them at or near the top of search results. Consequently, Wikipedia pages for a given entity, such as a person or an organisation, often attract more pageviews than that entity's official website.
A great tool to get an overview of how many people read Wikipedia articles is the Wikipedia pageviews tool. What follows are a few screenshots displaying the pageviews for a selection of articles relevant to EA. The tool clearly shows that (i) some of these articles get a very large number of pageviews, and (ii) some pages get orders of magnitude more traffic than others.
Pageviews of EA-related Wikipedia pages (link)
Pageviews of articles relevant to EA interests (link)
People tend to trust what is written on Wikipedia. Therefore, as Tomasik (2013) states, “if you want to share factual information rather than an opinion, Wikipedia will not only bring it to more people but will do so more persuasively”.
For instance, this study concludes that “survey results indicate that people tend to find Wikipedia information to be fairly credible” (Flanagin & Metzger, 2011). And this (widely-cited though admittedly rather outdated) study found that “the accuracy of Wikipedia is high” and that the mean credibility score assigned by subject-matter experts to Wikipedia articles was around 3 on a scale from 1 (very credible) to 7 (very incredible) (Chesney, 2006). In addition, this 2014 survey found that the British public trusts Wikipedia contributors more than even the most trusted journalists.
Evidence of Real-World Impacts
There is some preliminary research that suggests Wikipedia articles have real-world impacts. Here are some examples of this kind of research:
- A 2017 study found that “Incorporating ideas into Wikipedia leads to those ideas being used more in the scientific literature. (...) we find causal evidence that when scientific articles are added as references to Wikipedia, those articles accrue more academic citations.” (Thompson & Hanley, 2017)
- Another 2017 study found that “information on Wikipedia has a sizable impact on consumption choices. Our estimates show that adding about 2,000 characters (approximately two paragraphs) of text and one photo to a city’s Wikipedia page increased the number of nights spent in this city by about 9% during the tourist season compared to cities in the control group.” (Hinnosaar et al., 2017)
- A 2021 study notes that “by linking to external websites, Wikipedia can act as a gateway to the Web” and that “Wikipedia frequently serves as a stepping stone between search engines and third-party websites.” (Piccardi et al., 2021)
This preliminary research highlights the value not only of contributing to Wikipedia but also of conducting further research on the impact of such contributions.
Tractability of Wikipedia Editing
Many Wikipedia articles on important topics have substantial room for improvement. To name just a few of the key problems: articles are often incomplete, outdated, badly written or structured; they contain factual errors or lack relevant sources; or have not been translated to other (high priority) languages. Someone with relevant subject knowledge could often come in and substantially improve articles on the topics they know most about.
There seems to be a correlation between readership and article quality: More widely-read articles tend to be more complete and of higher quality. Consequently, in choosing which articles to edit, there usually is a trade-off between an article’s pageviews and the tractability of improving the article because more of the low-hanging fruit will already have been picked.
Low Barriers to Entry
It is very easy to begin editing Wikipedia for a few key reasons: First, the scope of Wikipedia edits can vary from tiny (e.g. correcting a typo), to medium (e.g. adding a new section to an existing article), to large (e.g. creating a new article). Second, Wikipedia editing is highly flexible: anyone can start editing anywhere, anytime, immediately (if they have internet access). Third, Wikipedia’s visual editing interface is so intuitive that it is essentially self-explanatory and is sufficient for most edits. Even learning to use Wikipedia’s source editing interface is relatively easy.
Editing Is Low Effort
Editing Wikipedia does not require (and actually does not permit) adding any original ideas or research. Fortunately, summarising existing research and insights is relatively low effort. For most people with subject-specific knowledge, it may be easy to contribute some of that knowledge to an appropriate Wikipedia article. For instance, as they write the literature review section for an academic paper, a graduate student may consider including a simplified summary of that review in a relevant Wikipedia article.
Neglectedness of Wikipedia Editing
Considering the potential importance and tractability of improving Wikipedia articles, Wikipedia editing is very neglected. In many (small) fields, only relatively few people (if any) tend to be active Wikipedia editors. Accordingly, a single person may be able to make a substantial difference to the quality of articles in their respective field or topic of interest.
It is not entirely surprising that Wikipedia editing is neglected: Wikipedia is a global public good (i.e. it is non-rivalrous, non-excludable, and available everywhere). Consequently, Wikipedia editing is likely undersupplied relative to the socially optimal level. A key reason for this is that the incentives to edit Wikipedia are insufficient: (i) there are no monetary rewards, (ii) editing is mostly anonymous, and (iii) in most (but not all) social contexts, you are likely to get less credit for Wikipedia editing than for more traditional activities (such as writing a book, blog posts, or insightful social media posts). This provides a great opportunity for altruistically-motivated people to close some of the gap between the demand for and the supply of high-quality Wikipedia articles.
Other Benefits of Wikipedia Editing
Wikipedia editing can be highly rewarding. Many Wikipedia editors, including me (and Brian Tomasik), find the activity very enjoyable and motivating.
Potential Professional Value
Wikipedia user profiles are publicly visible and can be linked to a real person—for instance, by making your real name your user name or by adding relevant details about you to your Wikipedia user page. You could then add your Wikipedia profile to a CV or on LinkedIn. Depending on your profession, potential employers may be impressed by a good Wikipedia track record (this likely includes most EA organisations) .
Wikipedia editing can be a great way to learn more about a topic. Improving an article will often involve reading, understanding, and synthesising insights from secondary sources such as academic papers. There is extensive research showing that this kind of active engagement with the subject matter—as opposed to passive highlighting or copying of relevant passages from a book—improves understanding and aids retention.
That said, it is usually better to focus on Wikipedia articles on topics you already know a fair amount about to reduce the risk of accidentally spreading incorrect information.
Improving Your Writing Style
Wikipedia follows a particular encyclopedic writing style. In line with this style, editing Wikipedia may help you to learn to write in a way that is concise, clear, and avoids unnecessary jargon or ambiguity. Moreover, it lets you practice good epistemic norms by forcing you to weigh different arguments and reference respectable sources. On the other hand, Wikipedia’s style makes it unsuited for practicing most non-encyclopedic writing, such as creative writing or promotional writing.
4. Prioritising Wikipedia Edits
Arguably, improving some Wikipedia articles is several orders of magnitude more valuable than improving others. For instance, article X may get 1,000x more pageviews than article Y, and X’s topic may be 10x more important than Y’s; all else being equal, it would be 10,000x more socially valuable to improve X than Y. Consequently, it is very important for altruists to prioritise carefully which Wikipedia articles to improve.
Some of the most important factors to prioritise between Wikipedia articles may be as follows:
- Pageviews: More is better, all else being equal. As shown above, the differences in the number of pageviews can be enormous.
- Audience: It matters not only how many people read an article but also who these people are. For instance, articles on certain niche topics in moral philosophy (e.g. population ethics) may be more likely to be read by a relatively more influential audience, such as students and researchers interested in global priorities research.
- Topic: Some topics are more altruistically important than others. Even ignoring all other considerations, it is likely (much) more important to improve the article on Global catastrophic risk than the article on Toilet paper orientation.
- Room for improvement: Less complete and lower-quality articles are easier to improve since there is more low-hanging fruit left to pick. Relatedly, editing is easier when there are lots of reliable sources available whose insights can be integrated and referenced.
- Language: It is usually more important to improve English-language Wikipedia articles than those in other languages. English-language articles tend to receive many more views than their counterparts in other languages, usually by one or two orders of magnitude (see below). Moreover, articles from the English Wikipedia often serve as templates for translations into other languages. This is typically done by editors proficient in the target language, but increasingly it involves the use of machine translation. (The second largest Wikipedia by number of articles is the Cebuano Wikipedia, with over 6 million articles. The vast majority of these articles were created by the automated program Lsjbot.) However, English-language Wikipedia articles tend to be more complete and higher-quality, meaning there may be less low-hanging fruit left to pick.
For illustration, the following tables display the number of pageviews for the top 10 language versions of several EA-related Wikipedia articles.
Effective altruism (link)
Peter Singer (link)
Global catastrophic risk (link)
An alternative to improving English Wikipedia articles is to translate these articles into other languages. When translating articles, it is important to adhere to the Wikipedia translation guidelines. Moreover, please note that community norms and rules may differ (slightly) between different language Wikipedias (e.g. what is regarded as “notable” enough to justify an article on the topic).
Here are some pros and cons from Tomasik (2013) for translating compared against contributing new content to the English article:
- Translation is faster than writing from scratch, potentially much faster. This means you can make available many more words of text per unit time than if you made novel contributions.
- There may be fewer existing foreign-language articles on the web about a given topic, so the marginal value of an additional article may be higher in a foreign language.
- Depending on your moods and inclinations, you might enjoy translating more (or less) than contributing to the English article.
- One of the most important downsides is that when translating, you learn far less personally than when adding new content. 90% of the effort of adding to Wikipedia for me lies in reading the source articles that I'm writing about or the Wikipedia page where I'm adding them, and those are things I'd want to be doing anyway, which is why I find Wikipedia contributing to have low opportunity cost. In contrast, translating would involve more menial work.
- Foreign pages have fewer readers.
- The English Wikipedia is likely to be the “state of the art” of the field (i.e., better than versions in other languages on average). It seems arguably most important to advance the “state of the art.”
Creating New Articles vs Editing Existing Articles
There is no general rule to decide whether it is more valuable to create new Wikipedia articles or improve existing ones. One advantage of the latter is that you can already see how popular the article is (in terms of pageviews) to inform your judgment of the value of improving that article. In contrast, when deciding whether to create a new article, you will have much less information about the article’s potential popularity.
Editing Other Wikimedia Projects
Wikipedia is only one among several projects operated by the Wikimedia Foundation. These other projects function analagously to Wikipedia (i.e. anyone can edit articles/items) and include, amongst others:
- Wikimedia Commons: a repository of images, sounds, videos, and general media
- Wikidata: a knowledge base for centrally storing the structured data of other Wikimedia projects
- Wikiquote: a collection of quotations
- Wikisource: a digital library of free-content textual sources
- Wikibooks: a collection of textbooks
- Wiktionary: an online dictionary and thesaurus
- Wikivoyage: a travel guide
This raises the question of whether to prioritise contributing to Wikipedia or a different Wikimedia project. Overall, Wikipedia seems by far the most important and popular (in terms of pageviews) of these projects. That is, it will usually be (much) more valuable to improve a Wikipedia article on a given topic than, for instance, the equivalent Wikiquote article. On the other hand, there may be more low hanging fruit left to pick in other Wikimedia projects.
Note that Wikipedia articles directly integrate much of the content hosted on Wikimedia Commons. Thus, it can be very valuable to create and upload relevant media (e.g. graphs and illustrations) to Wikimedia Commons (while following the copyright rules) and then include them in a suitable Wikipedia article.
5. WikiProjects of Special Relevance to EA
A WikiProject is a group of contributors who want to work together as a team to improve Wikipedia. The English Wikipedia has about 2,000 WikiProjects, about half of which are active. A WikiProject allows for more efficient collaboration by providing a centralised place where interested editors can make plans and discuss proposals.
There is currently no WikiProject on effective altruism. However, some WikiProjects have within their scope topics of EA relevance (HT Rob Bensinger), including:
A list of all existing WikiProjects, with activity status and creation dates, can be found here.
You may want to become involved in one or more of these existing projects, depending on your interests and personal fit. More ambitiously, you may also want to consider starting a new WikiProject (for instance, one on effective altruism). Here is what Wikipedia says about the process for creating a new WikiProject:
If the project doesn't yet exist, but you've found interested editors, it's time to propose your project idea! Go to the WikiProject proposals page and search that page and its archives to see if your project idea has been proposed before (if it has, be prepared to justify why you feel this time the project will succeed). Follow the instructions on that page to create a proposal. You'll need to list the pages and categories that are key to your proposed group, as well as current WikiProjects that relate to those pages. Then interested users will sign-up to support the project (feel free to advertise this at related projects or pages. (...) While there are no hard rules for what constitutes "sufficient" support, projects that are likely to succeed tend to start with at least 6 to 12 active Wikipedians. Once that threshold is reached, the proposal can be considered successful and the project created (...) If there is insufficient support to start the project after a few months, the proposal will generally be archived for future reference.
It appears that there was an early proposal to create a WikiProject on EA, which was rejected. However, this proposal was made back in 2013 by a single user with just four edits, so it doesn't seem like it should count as a negative precedent.
6. Getting Started as a Wikipedia Editor
You have decided to give Wikipedia editing a go. Great! Where do you get started? Fortunately, Wikipedia has a guide for that: Wikipedia: Getting started.
Becoming Familiar With Wikipedia’s Rules
Don’t feel like you need to have read all articles about Wikipedia rules and norms before you can start to edit. While reading them upfront may help you avoid some frustrating experiences later, the biggest failure mode is getting overwhelmed and being discouraged from ever taking the first step on your editing journey. Most of Wikipedia’s rules and norms are commonsensical, and you are bound to become familiar with them as you gather editing experience.
That said, if you read only a single article before you started editing, I would recommend Ten Simple Rules for Editing Wikipedia. Below is a list of the ten rules from the article, including some highlights, but I recommend reading the original.
- Register an Account
- “By logging in you can build a record of good edits, and it is easier to communicate and collaborate with others if you have a fixed, reputable identity. Finally, registering an account provides access to enhanced editing features, including a “watchlist” for monitoring articles you have edited previously.”
- Learn the Five Pillars
- Wikipedia “is not an appropriate venue to promote your pet theory or share unpublished results. It is also not a soapbox on which to expound your personal theories or a battleground to debate controversial issues.”
- Be Bold, but Not Reckless
- “Many new editors feel intimidated about contributing to Wikipedia at first, fearing they may a mistake. Such reticence is understandable but unfounded. The worst that can happen is your first edits are deemed not to be an improvement and they get reverted. If this does occur, treat it as a positive learning experience and ask the reverting editor for advice.”
- Know Your Audience
- “Wikipedia is not primarily aimed at experts; therefore, the level of technical detail in its articles must be balanced against the ability of non-experts to understand those details.”
- Do Not Infringe Copyright
- “With certain conditions, almost all of Wikipedia's content is free for anyone to reuse, adapt, and distribute. Consequently, it does not accept non-free material under copyright restriction.”
- Cite, Cite, Cite
- “Wikipedia has a strict inclusion policy that demands verifiability. This is best established by attributing each statement in Wikipedia to a reliable, published source.”
- Avoid Self-Promotion
- “Think twice, also, before writing about your mentors, colleagues, competitors, inventions, or projects. Doing so places you in a conflict of interest and inclines you towards unintentional bias.”
- Share Your Expertise, but Don't Argue from Authority
- “Writing about a subject about which you have academic expertise is not a conflict of interest; indeed, this is where we can contribute to Wikipedia most effectively.”
- Write Neutrally and with Due Weight
- “All articles in Wikipedia should be impartial in tone and content. When writing, do state facts and facts about notable opinions, but do not offer your opinion as fact.”
- Ask for Help
- “Wikipedia can be a confusing place for the inexperienced editor. (...) Thankfully, the Wikipedia community puts great stock in welcoming new editors. Guidance is available through a number of avenues, including help desks, a specific IRC channel, and an Adopt-a-User mentorship program”
7. Wikipedia vs EA Wiki
I have so far focused on the value of contributing to Wikipedia. However, the EA Forum earlier this year launched an EA Wiki, and it is natural to ask how contributions to it may compare. Prima facie, contributing to Wikipedia seems significantly more valuable since its articles receive considerably more traffic. But further reflection reveals a number of considerations in favour of contributing to the EA Wiki. Overall, I don't feel that there are decisive reasons favouring one type of contribution over the other.
Notability. Many (most?) EA Wiki entries are important for the EA community but fail Wikipedia's notability standards. This is often because their topics lack (enough) of what Wikipedia considers to be “reliable sources” (such as “academic and peer-reviewed publications, scholarly monographs, and textbooks”). A decision to contribute to the EA Wiki is tacitly relying on the background judgment of the EA community, which has regarded that article as worthy of inclusion.
Friendliness. The EA Wiki is more welcoming, and for some people, this may make a big difference (e.g. chances of getting into nasty “edit wars” are probably at least 10x lower on the EA Wiki).
Building experience. The EA Wiki may be seen as a kind of “sandbox” for inexperienced editors, who could gain familiarity with the basics of wiki editing by contributing to this more welcoming encyclopedia before trying to submit content to Wikipedia.
Holistic effects. (might be the dominant consideration, besides notability) The value of contributing to the EA Wiki at this stage is probably coming less from the value of its individual articles and more from increasing the chances that the project as a whole succeeds.
Priority effects. (speculative) The value of early contributions is probably significantly higher since they set the future direction of the article and may last for longer than later contributions. Since the EA Wiki is so new, a much larger share of contributions to it than to Wikipedia will be early contributions.
There are also a few additional considerations in favour of Wikipedia (besides Wikipedia’s vastly greater readership):
Name recognition. Wikipedia is likely to be perceived by many to be a more authoritative source of information than the EA Wiki.
Neutrality. Compared to Wikipedia, the EA Wiki is more clearly associated with an intellectual movement. Insofar as this is the case, we should expect EA Wiki articles to be read more sceptically and, in turn, less likely to influence readers.
8. Relevant Resources
Branwen, Gwern (2009) In defense of inclusionism, Gwern.Net, January 15.
Branwen, Gwern (2009) Wikipedia and other wikis, Gwern.Net, January 27.
Bush, Lance S. (2013) Low-hanging fruit: Improving Wikipedia entries, LessWrong, July 23.
Naik, Vipul (2015) Should you donate to the Wikimedia Foundation?, Effective Altruism Forum, March 28.
Tomasik, Brian (2009) Save notes to Wikipedia, Reducing Suffering, April 17.
Tomasik, Brian (2013) The value of Wikipedia contributions in social sciences, Essays on Reducing Suffering, November 26.
Chesney, Thomas (2006) An empirical examination of Wikipedia’s credibility, First Monday, vol. 11.
Haider, Jutta & Olof Sundin (2021) Wikipedia and wikis, in Mathieu O’Neil, Christian Pentzold & Sophie Toupin (eds.) The Handbook of Peer Production, Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 169–184.
Hinnosaar, Marit et al. (2017) Wikipedia matters, SSRN Electronic Journal.
Jemielniak, Dariusz & Eduard Aibar (2016) Bridging the gap between wikipedia and academia, Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, vol. 67, pp. 1773–1776.
Piccardi, Tiziano et al. (2021) On the value of Wikipedia as a gateway to the web, ArXiv Preprint ArXiv:2102.07385, vol. 2.
Shafee, Thomas, Daniel Mietchen & Andrew I. Su (2017) Academics can help shape Wikipedia, Science, vol. 357, pp. 557–558.
Thompson, Neil & Douglas Hanley (2017) Science is shaped by Wikipedia: Evidence from a randomized control trial, SSRN Electronic Journal.
Xu, Sean Xin & Xiaoquan Zhang (2013) Impact of Wikipedia on market information environment: Evidence on management disclosure and investor reaction, MIS Quarterly, vol. 37, pp. 1043–1068.
 Paid Wikipedia editing is not banned outright. However, it seems to be widely regarded with suspicion, is subjected to additional scrutiny, and comes with extensive disclosure requirements. This is to avoid conflicts of interest and discourage Wikipedia editing being used for advocacy, propaganda, or recruitment. In light of this, improving Wikipedia articles is, comparatively, a much better opportunity for volunteers than for paid staff.
 Of course, writing is often motivated by aspects other than readership alone. For instance, writing magazine articles or books may be great opportunities for people to build their careers and public profiles.
 Brown, Peter C., Henry L. Roediger III & Mark A. McDaniel (2014) Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
 Tomasik (2013) highlights “differential intellectual progress” as a potentially important consideration in prioritising between different topics. He suggests that “we focus our Wikipedia contributions on topics that tend more to improve wisdom: social sciences, philosophy, other humanities, and some natural sciences (e.g., cosmology) that are extremely illuminating but not directly applicable to engineering.”
 One indicative (but admittedly imperfect) metric for the general success of the different Wikimedia projects is their Alexa rank (as listed here).
 Note that when your edits or your account are visibly connected to a specific community (like EA, arnimal rights, rationality, environmentalism etc.) it seems especially important to avoid recklessness and making a negative impression which may reflect badly on the community in general.
I am grateful to the following people for reviewing this article before publication: Pablo Stafforini, Aaron Gertler, Max Schons, Stefan Schubert, Sören Mindermann, and Matthew van der Merwe.
I just discovered another benefit of Wikipedia editing. After 6 months of editing wikipedia, making over 500 edits, and doing at least 10 in the last month, you get offered free access to a range of scholarly sources via The Wikipedia Library, including major scientific journals.
Vipul Naik used to experiment with paying people to edit wikipedia pages. This has since run foul of Wikipedia community's arbitration, for complicated online social reasons that I was unable to find a good history of.
If people want to have a community push to edit Wikipedia (and not just a few EAs individually choosing to do so), I think it'd be helpful to learn from past failures so we don't accidentally burn more goodwill. It might be as simple as "never pay people to edit Wikipedia," but I'm not sure (and lean against) that's the only generalizable lesson.
I strongly agree that we should learn our lessons from this incident and seriously try to avoid any repetition of something similar. In my view, the key lessons are something like:
I think it would be a big mistake for one's takeaway from this episode to be something like "the EA community should not engage with Wikipedia".
Two more general lessons that I would add, which have nothing to do with the Vipul incident:
I'm actually working on a similar project www.oka.wiki, focused on funding Wikipedia translators (which we train on using Wikipedia, and hire in countries with low cost of living). We currently have ~10 FTE and already published hundreds of articles.
We initially got some pushback from the community, but so far it seems like the solutions we have implemented (around increasing transparency, more thorough quality checks) have helped.
I'd be happy to share more about the project and our experience if that's helpful. I was planning to write a post in a couple of months about it once I have gathered more data/experience with this.
I strongly endorse each of these points.
Hi Linch! I have a loose summary of my sponsored Wikipedia editing efforts at https://vipulnaik.com/sponsored-wikipedia-editing/ that I have just updated to include more information and links.
For third-party coverage of the incident, check out https://web.archive.org/web/20170625001549/http://en.kingswiki.com/wiki/Vipulgate -- I'm linking to Wayback Machine since that wiki seems to no longer exist; also a warning that the site's general viewpoints are redpill, which might be a dealbreaker for some readers. But this particular article seems reasonably well-done in terms of its reporting/coverage, and isn't too redpill.
I appreciate that you've raised this issue and provided a reasonably thorough discussion of it. I would like to highlight a bunch of aspects based on my experience editing Wikipedia as well as studying its culture in some depth. While the paid editing phase and the subsequent fallout inform my views partly, these are actually based on several years of experience before (and some after) that incident.
While none of what I say falsifies what you wrote, it is in tension with some of your tone and emphasis. So in some ways these observations are critical of your post.
How much reverence does Wikipedia's process deserve?
I think that, if your goal is to spend a lot of time editing Wikipedia, it's really important to study Wikipedia's policies -- both the de jure ones and the de facto ones. That's because the policies are not completely intuitive, and the enforcement can often be swift and unfriendly -- giving you little chance to recover once you get on the bad side of it.
So in that sense, it is important to respect and understand Wikipedia's policies.
But, that is not the same as being reverent toward the policies and enforcement mechanisms. I think your post has some of that reverence, as well as a "just world" belief, that the policies and their enforcement are sensible and just, and align with effective altruist ideals. For instance, you write:
In contrast, my take on understanding the Wikipedia system is that it bears many resemblances to other legal and bureaucratic systems -- many of the rules make sense in theory, and have good rationales, but their application is often really bad. Going in with a positive "just world" belief in Wikipedia seems like a recipe for falling down rather hard at the first incident. I think the best way is to be well-prepared in terms of understanding the dynamics and the kinds of attacks you may endure, so that then once you do get in there you have no false expectations, and if you do get into a fight you can bow down and stay cool without feeling rattled.
You've linked to Gwern's inclusionism article already; a few other links I recommend: Wikipedia Bureaucracy (continued), Robert Walker's answer on frustrating aspects of being a Wikipedia editor, and Gwern's piece on dark side editing.
On that note, what kind of preparation is necessary?
Based on my experience editing Wikipedia, and seeing my edited articles spend several years surviving, growing, getting deleted, or shrinking -- all of which have happened to me -- I can say it's important to be prepared when editing Wikipedia in a few ways:
Prepare for your work getting deleted or maimed: On a process level, this means keeping off-Wikipedia backups (Issa and I implemented technical solutions to back up the content of articles we were editing automatically, in addition to manual syncing we did at every edit). During a mass deletion episode following the paid editing, we almost lost the content of several articles, but were fortunately able to retrieve it. At an emotional level, it means accepting the possibility that stuff you spent a lot of time writing can, sometimes immediately and sometimes after years, randomly get deleted or maimed beyond recognition. And even if reasons are proffered for the maiming or deletion, you are unlikely to consider them good reasons.
Prepare to be attacked or questioned in ways you might find ridiculous: This may not happen to you for years, and then may suddenly happen even if you are on your best behavior -- because somebody somewhere notices something. While there are a number of strategies to reduce the probability of this happening (don't get into fights, avoid editing controversial stuff, avoid overtly promotional or low-quality edits) they are no guarantee. And if you have a large corpus of edits, once somebody is suspicious of you, they can go after your whole body of work. The emotional and psychological preparation for that -- and the background knowledge of it so that you can make an informed decision to edit Wikipedia -- is important.
A few specific tripping points of effective altruist projects to edit Wikipedia
When do you get into trouble on Wikipedia, keep in mind these likely truths about the other side (though this could vary a lot from situation to situation, and you could well get lucky enough for these not to apply to you):
What kind of Wikipedia editing might still be safe and okay to do?
This will vary from person to person. I think the following are likely to be okay for anybody altruistically inclined but moderately risk-averse:
A positive note to end on
I will end with a wholehearted commendation of the spirit of your post; as I see it, this is about being prosocial in a broad sense, "giving back" to a great resource, and finding opportunities to benefit multiple communities and work in a collaborative fashion with different groups to create more for the world. I generally favor producing public output while learning new topics; where the format and goals allow it, this could be Wikipedia pages! Issa Rice has even documented this "paper trail" approach I follow.
PS: I thank Issa Rice for some of the links and thoughts that I've included in this comment as well as for reviewing my draft of the comment. Responsibility for errors and omissions is fully mine; I did not incorporate all of Issa's feedback.
One downside you don't mention: having a Wikipedia article can be a liability when editors are malicious, for all the reasons it is a benefit when it is high-quality like its popularity and mutability. A zealous attacker or deletionist destroying your article for jollies is bad, but at least it merely undoes your contribution and you can mirror it; an article being hijacked (which is what a real attacker will do) can cause you much more damage than you would ever have gained as it creates a new reality which will echo everywhere.
My (unfortunately very longstanding) example of this is the WP article on cryonics: you will note that the article is surprisingly short for a topic on which so much could be said and reads like it's been barely touched in half a decade. Strikingly, while having almost no room for any information on minor topics like how cryonics works or how current cryonics orgs operate or the background on why it should be possible in principle or remarkable research findings like the progress on bringing pigs back from the dead, instead, the introduction, and an entire section, harp on how corporations go bankrupt and it is unlikely that a corporation today will be around in a century and how ancient pre-1973 cryonics companies have all gone bankrupt and so on. These claims are mostly true, but you will then search the article in vain for any mention that the myriad of cryonics bankruptcies alluded to is like 2 or 3 companies, that cryonics for the past 50 years isn't done solely by corporations precisely because of that when it became apparent that cryonics was going to need to be a long-term thing & families couldn't be trusted to pay, they are structured as trusts (the one throwaway comma mentioning trusts is actively misleading by implying that they are optional and unusual, rather than the status quo), and that there have been few or no bankruptcies or known defrostings since. All attempts to get any of this basic information into the article is blocked by editors. Anyone who comes away with an extremely negative opinion of cryonics can't be blamed when so much is omitted to put it in the worst possible light. You would have to be favorably disposed to cryonics already to be reading this article and critically thinking to yourself, "did cryonicists really learn nothing from the failures? how do cryonicists deal with these criticisms when they are so obvious, it doesn't seem to say? if the cryonics orgs go bankrupt so often, why doesn't it name any of the many bankruptcies in the 49 years between 1973 and 2022, and how are any of these orgs still around?" etc.
More recently, the Scott Alexander/NYT fuss: long-time WP editor & ex-LWer David Gerard finally got himself outright topic-banned from the SA WP article when he overreached by boasting on Twitter how he was feeding claims to the NYT journalist so the journalist could print them in the article in some form and Gerard could then cite them in the WP article (and safe to say, any of the context or butt-covering caveats in the article version would be sanded away and simplified in the WP version to the most damaging possible version, which would then be defended as obviously relevant and clearly WP:V to an unimpeachable WP:RS). Gerard and activists also have a similar 'citogenesis' game going with Rational Wiki and friendly academics laundering into WP proper: make allegations there, watch them eventually show up in a publication of some sort, however tangential, and now you can add to the target article "X has been described as a [extremist / white supremacist / racist / fringe figure / crackpot] by [the SPLC / extremism researchers / the NYT / experts / the WHO]
<ref></ref>". Which will be true - there will in fact be a sentence, maybe even two or three about it in the ref. And there the negative statements will stay forever if they have anything to say about it (which they do), while everything else positive in the article dies the death of a thousand cuts. This can then be extended: do they have publications in some periodicals? Well, extremist periodicals are hardly WP:RSes now are they and shouldn't be cited (WP:NAZI)... Scott's WP article may not be too bad right now, but one is unlikely to be so lucky to get such crystal-clear admissions of bad faith editing, a large audience of interested editors going beyond the usual suspects of self-selected activist-editors who are unwilling to make excuses for the behavior, and despite all that, who knows how the article will read a year or a decade from now?
I make minor edits to Wikipedia articles occasionally, when I'm reading a Wikipedia article and see an improvement that can be made, but I haven't made much of a deliberate effort to edit articles that I think are important. Can you provide some examples of articles that you think are especially in need of improvement? Some articles related to effective altruism are much more shallow than they could be (such as Longtermism), while many others look quite strong (such as Wild animal suffering and AI control problem). I'm not sure how I would find pages that are especially in need of improvement, besides randomly stumbling upon them. Longtermism has only received 54 view sin the past 30 days Perhaps starting an EA WikiProject would help with prioritizing articles that need to be improved. That just requires that we find "at least 6 to 12 active Wikipedians" to contribute to the project. If we can't meet that threshold, we could perhaps coordinate Wikipedia edits in a group chat off Wikipedia.
I would recommend creating a new article for any subject that you notice doesn't have an existing article and meets Wikipedia's notability requirements: "A topic is presumed to be suitable for a stand-alone article or list when it has received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject." Just having a Wikipedia article is valuable for demonstrating to readers that an article's subject is notable, even if the article itself is relatively light on content. An important next step after creating a new article is to edit relevant articles to link to your new article. That said, I don't have a strong opinion on whether it's a better use of your time to create a new article or to improve an existing one.
Thanks for this post! I appreciated it.
It seems worth listing or crowd-sourcing articles that people should focus on, and attaching that to existing project compilations and resources. (Michael seems to point in this direction in a comment, too.)
Maybe you or someone else can write up a quick list of topics to explore, or a meta strategy for identifying such topics? One thing that springs to mind as a possible starting point is simply checking to see which of the EA Forum Wiki tags/pages don't have a corresponding Wikipedia page, or have a poor one (and deciding for which that should change).
On that note, I quite like that you list:
(Apologies if I am repeating something said in the post itself-- I read some parts and skimmed others.)
Here are some topics that I noticed don't have a page and would probably meet Wikipedia's notability criteria:
To check whether a subject seemed notable, I looked it up on Google News or Google Scholar and tried to see at a glance whether there are multiple independent articles that are about the subject.
I haven't done a thorough search of EA-related organizations and books so I'm sure I'm missing some topics.
I've created a page in my Wikipedia userspace that lists potentially relevant pages and projects. You're welcome to edit it!
Someone (who is not me) just started a proposal for a WikiProject on Effective Altruism! To be accepted, this proposal will need to be supported by at least 6-12 active Wikipedia editors. If you're interested in contributing to such a WikiProject, please express "support" for the proposal on the proposal page.
The proposal passed!! Everyone who's interested should add themselves as a participant on the official wikiproject! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Effective_Altruism
Wikipedia person profiles are publicly seen and can be related to a actual character—as an instance, by way of making your actual call your person name or by using adding relevant details about you on your Wikipedia consumer web page. you can then upload your Wikipedia profile to a CV or on LinkedIn. depending in your profession, ability employers may be inspired via an amazing Wikipedia tune document (this probably includes most EA companies) . (https://wikicyclopedia.com/)
Wikipedia allows you to track the number of page views, edits, and number of distinct authors in the last 30 days for an individual article. For example, the Effective Altruism article has had about 12,000 page views, with 19 edits by 6 authors, in the last month. It gets an average of 310 page views per day.
This information can be accessed by going to the page of interest, and clicking "Page Information" under the "Tools" sidebar.
At the bottom of "Page Information" is "Page View Statistics" under "External Tools." This allows you to get page view information for much longer periods of time. Interesting things pop out. Occasionally, the EA article has major spikes. A recent one was on 11/16/2021, but the biggest by far was on 3/4/2017. Peter Singer published an editorial on the like of Derek Parfit in The Syndicate that day.
It would be interesting to figure out a way to quantify the impact of wikipedia edits as measured by daily pageview counts.
This is the best tool I know of to get an overview of Wikipedia article pageview counts (as mentioned in the post); the only limitation with it is that pageview data "only" goes back to 2015.
I'm having a wiki writing call tomorrow morning and then every 2 weeks after.
Is there a community of EAs working on wikis?
This post inspired me to rewrite the Wikipedia article for my MS thesis research topic, on aptamers. It's been very helpful to be able to link it to people when I'm trying to explain my research. Good post!
Well done! The article receives about 50,000 page views each year, so there are a lot of people out there who benefit from your contribution.
Wow, I hadn't thought to check! Thanks for pointing that out, and for writing this post!
I agree that Wikipedia editing is important, tractable, and neglected; I'm surprised there hasn't been more EA effort pointing in this direction, given that it also seems an unusually easy fit for EAs' interests and skills.
What edits have you (or anyone you know) made that seem to have been valuable?
Several EAs have accurately updated prominent individuals' bios (e.g., the profile of Michael Kremer) to highlight their founding roles in Giving What We Can — or other notable EA affiliations.
I can't take credit for those additions, but think they are smart, consistent with the spirit of Wikipedia, and worthwhile.
As an example, look at this overview of the Wikipedia pages that Brian Tomasik has created and their associated pageview numbers (screenshot of the top 10 pages below). The pages created by Brian mostly cover very important (though fringe) topics and attract ~ 100,000 pageviews every year. (Note that this overview ignores all the pages that Brian has edited but didn't create himself.)
Please someone change: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longtermism
Recent BBC report on people trying to spread misinformation on Wikipedia -- https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-59325128
"Study finds Wikipedia influences judicial behavior: Using a randomized field experiment, researchers discover that Wikipedia articles affect judges’ legal reasoning." (MIT)
EA Wiki editing call - edit whatever wiki you want while on a call.
We're gonna try running 4 sessions in Jan and Feb, 10:00 UTC every 2 weeks, staring 8th January.
edit I tried to share an event link but I couldn't find an easy way:
- DM me (or message on twitter @nathanpmyoung, email firstname.lastname@example.org or text 447891020271) if you want
- Tell me a really easy way to make and share events.
Ahmed Yusef and I have been meeting and editing a small EA wiki together and thought we'd throw it open, feel free to join us in a laid back editing session of a wiki of your choice.
When I open the calendar link, it says "Could not find the requested event." I think you have to make the event on a public calendar to be able to share it.
Frown, will edit.
For AI existential risk, there are a few improvements that would make a big difference:
(May those be good projects for some of the groups of the AGI safety program and the AI long-term governance program?)
I'd like to link my post on maintaining Scihub backups here, if that's alright
Scihub is probably atleast 1% as impactful as Wikipedia, and shouldn't take more than $1M to save forever (the actual figure is likely lesser).
Thanks! I broadly agree with this, think this is a useful and well-written post, and have already shared it with two people who I think will find it useful.
But I have two criticisms/quibbles, one specific and one more general. I'll put them in separate comments.
General quibble: Many parts of this post feel like they're just about whether editing Wikipedia is better than doing nothing, doing what non-EAs tend to do, or doing something not at all optimised for EA goals, rather than whether editing Wikipedia is better than relatively obvious alternative ways readers of this post could spend their time. E.g.:
I think it makes sense that this post can't carefully compare Wikipedia editing against all such alternatives. And it could be that Wikipedia editing is a "second best" option for many goals and therefore often first best overall, or something. But (at least when listening to the Nonlinear Library podcast version of this) it felt like the post was sometimes saying "Wikipedia is good for X, therefore if you want X you should strongly consider editing Wikipedia", even when I could quickly think of 5 things that might be better for X that weren't mentioned. And that then feels to me a bit misleading / not ideal.
(Again, I liked the post overall and have already shared it with people. This is meant as constructive criticism rather than as a smackdown. I feel like for some reason the tone above is harsher than I really mean - not sure why it's coming out that way - so apologies if it indeed comes across that way :) )
Thanks for this comment, Michael! I agree with all the points you make and should have been more careful to compare Wikipedia editing against the alternatives (I began doing this in an earlier draft of this post and then cut it because it became unwieldy).
In my experience, few EAs I've talked to have ever seriously considered Wikipedia editing. Therefore, my main objective with this post was to get more people to recognize it as one option of something valuable they might do with a part of their time; I wasn't trying to argue that Wikipedia editing is the best use of their time, which depends a lot on individual circumstances and preferences.
In fact, I'd expect the opportunity costs for many people in the community to be too high to make Wikipedia editing worth their while, but I'd leave that judgment up to them. That said, some people (like me) will find Wikipedia editing sufficiently enjoyable that it becomes more of a fun hobby and doesn't compete much with other productive uses of their time.
Specific quibble: I'm skeptical that the following claim is true to a noteworthy degree, and (due tot that) feel that it was a bit odd that the claim was made without reasoning/evidence being provided:
Was this based on conversations with any employers? Obviously employers may be impressed by this, but they also may be impressed by all sorts of other things, and I'd guess this'd be less impressive both to most EA orgs and to most non-EA orgs than various other things people could do with the same amount of time. That's in line with the following thing that you note elsewhere (and which I agree with):
Also, I think many (most?) employers will just pay much less attention to any prior experience than to how well a candidate does in work tests, interviews, and/or work trials.
Thanks, it's valuable to hear your more skeptical view on this point! I've included it after several reviewers of my post brought it up and still think it was probably worth including as one of several potential self-interested benefits of Wikipedia editing.
I was mainly trying to draw attention to the fact that it is possible to link a Wikipedia user account to a real person and that it is worth considering whether to include it in certain applications (something I've done in previous applications). I still think Wikipedia editing is a decent signal of pro-social motivation, experience engaging with specific topics, and of some writing practice. Thus, it seems comparable to me to a personal blog, which you may also include, where relevant, in certain applications as evidence for these things.
Thanks for this!
Curious if anyone else would be fans if the community started using the following titling for this type of post, to emphasize to ourselves more that we have an impoverished understanding of the way the world works:
“X is tractable and neglected, and it might be important”
I totally agree, and I think this is super exciting!! It looks like someone has already provide really great comprehensive feedback on improvements to the main Effective Altruism article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effective_altruism):
I started working on these. I could use some community input on the definition of Effective Altruism -- see my post on the Talk page, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Effective_altruism#Definition_of_Effective_Altruism
Thanks for writing this!
I think it would also be valuable to expand or create new articles on the social sciences, especially economics and sociology. For example: Social discount rate
Was recently just complaining about this - great post.