Friday, August 04, 2006

Think you spend too much time on the net?

The survey a few days ago suggested that many Canadians, spend too much time tethered to their computers, avoiding relatives and friends in pursuit of their computerized passion. Household chores can go undone, relationships (if there was one) can suffer and we could have a tendency to wonder what the bright object in the sky every day might be.

But you know, most of us have a long way to go before we reach the passion for typing away at our computers that Simon Pulsifer has.

Below is a profile from the Globe and Mail (net version here) on Canada’s King of Wikipedia contributors.

Prolific Canadian is king of Wikipedia
With more than 80,000 articles under his belt, Ottawa man is the on-line resource's busiest contributor
From Friday's Globe and Mail

Simon Pulsifer has never really blended in with the crowd. In kindergarten, he began building elaborate, fantastical buildings out of Lego, already bored by the construction plans on the back of the box.

In Grade 8, he, attired as Stalin, and other friends re-enacted the Yalta conference on the balcony of a friend's house. In university, he became the Trivial Pursuit champion at his college, and even won when the whole residence took him on.

Today Mr. Pulsifer, 24, is known internationally as the world's most prolific author on the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia, with 78,000 entries edited and 2,000 to 3,000 new articles to his name. He can't remember the exact number.

"I'm always doing something for Wikipedia, even when I'm not writing entries," he said from his home in Ottawa. "I'm always planning and thinking about how I can make the site better."
Simon Pulsifer, Wikipedia’s top author, displays in Ottawa this week an article he wrote on the 1968 Liberal leadership convention. (Bill Grimshaw/The Globe and Mail)

Mr. Pulsifer, who is considered a walking encyclopedia among friends and family, graduated with honours with a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Toronto in 2004. While studying for his degree, he found the time to devote up to six hours a day researching and writing Wikipedia articles.

Upon graduation, the Ottawa resident took a year off to devote eight to 10 hours a day adding new entries to the site.

Mr. Pulsifer has always been a very curious person and a voracious reader, said his mother, Diana Pepall, a librarian.

The self-professed nerd does not enjoy playing sports or have any other hobbies, he told The Globe with a self-deprecating laugh. "I'm not paid for the work I do for Wikipedia. It doesn't matter to me that I do it on a voluntary basis. I enjoy it. It's important that people around the world have access to free, accurate and unbiased information. Wikipedia tries to do that, and it's a very honourable and admirable goal."

Since February, he has been working full-time managing the computer systems for Ottawa mayoral candidate Alex Munter, but still spends three to four hours a day updating the site.
"It's an addiction," said Mr. Pulsifer, who describes himself as anything but self-indulgent in other aspects of his life. He lives at home and doesn't have a girlfriend.

"You write an article and you think you've made it as good as it can be and then you put it out there for everyone to see and edit. And within just a few minutes, you have started a dialogue over how best to represent a subject. It's very exciting because my reputation is on the line."
Among the Wikipedia community, who call themselves Wikipedians, Mr. Pulsifer is held up as the gold standard -- the international benchmark against which they measure themselves, said Wayne Saewyc, spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation.

"Whenever someone starts bragging about what they have done on the site, someone will go, well, how do you compare to Simon? We tend to organize by languages, rather than by location, and the Wikipedia community stretches right across the English-speaking world.
"People know about Simon worldwide."

Mr. Pulsifer's thousands of articles cover a broad variety of topics, including Canadian and U.S. history, international and Canadian politics, economics and current affairs. He has written featured articles, those profiled on Wikipedia's opening page, on the military history of Canada, the Italian Renaissance, the Marshall Plan, the economy of Africa, the history of Central Asia, among others.

At present, he has devoted himself to widening the scope of the site to include more entries on Africa, a continent that is underrepresented on the site, he said.

His most prized article was on the African kingdom Makuria -- which existed in the Middle Ages in what is now Sudan -- that was extremely difficult to research because so few people know anything about the place. He did not write the entries on Wikipediholism and editcountitis, although he acknowledges he might be afflicted with both.

For their labours, Wikipedians do not receive much credit from the outside world.
Articles are not signed, although users can easily access the history of the entry and see who made which edits.

Some Wikipedians prefer to keep their identities hidden and do not use their real names on the site. Mr. Pulsifer, for example, goes by SimonP. This username is to protect his identity from the abuse that can come from editing the site.

"There are a number of crazy people who edit Wikipedia and become very angry if any entry disagrees with their point of view. There are horror stories about people getting death threats, and although I have been insulted, it has never happened to me. Some people call us Wikigeeks. But I wouldn't consider it an insult anyway, more of an apt description."

No comments: