Simon Pulsifer (BA 2004 VIC), 24, of Ottawa may not have a job, but that doesn’t mean he has much spare time. Pulsifer spends eight to 10 hours a day contributing to Wikipedia – “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” – at www.wikipedia.org. The five-year-old open-access site exists in more than 100 languages, and the English version alone contains 830,000 articles – increasing by about 50,000 a month. And for that, we can thank people like Pulsifer.
Lisa Rundle: Why are we hearing so much about Wikipedia these days?
Simon Pulsifer: Its sheer popularity. So many people are using it. I don’t know how many thousands of student essays Wikipedia content gets integrated into.
How’s Wikipedia’s accuracy? It’s based on the idea that, because any person can contribute to the editing of an item, it will end up with fewer errors than what a small cadre of editors produce the traditional way.
I think it’s very variable. The most popular articles, which have been edited thousands of times, are extremely accurate. But others don’t get so much attention.
What’s an example of a popular article?
The George W. Bush entry. I think it’s been edited 21,000 times.
Is George W. Bush one of the people who’s edited it?
Not that we’ve noticed. But there have been instances of that kind of thing.
People editing entries about themselves?
Yes. Usually lower-level politicians.
Is it good editing?
Mostly they’re just taking out anything that’s negative about them, true or false.
Then does it get put back in?
What did you do to be dubbed the Wikipedia Wonderboy?
I guess it’s mainly that I’m the most prolific contributor.
Give me numbers.
I think it’s about 70,000 edits. But that’s a misleading figure in that an edit can be anything from fixing a typo to writing a 4,000-word article. So, I’ve sort of written two or three thousand articles.
Which of the entries you’ve written are you most fond of?
There’s a class of articles that are judged featured articles. I have nine of these at the moment and I’m proud of those. My article on mercantilism was recently on the main page.
Is there a Wikipedia entry on Simon Pulsifer?
There’s a strict policy against autobiography; they tend to lack neutrality. And there’s also a policy against writing articles on people who aren’t particularly notable.
But you’re Wikipedia Wonderboy.
I’m not sure one Ottawa Citizen article qualifies for notoriety.
Your sourcing rigour is showing. You attended Victoria College at U of T. Are you, then, responsible for the unusual entries relating to Vic residences titled “Gate House” and “Burwash bug”?
I am, actually.
Are there any other obscure U of T-related entries you’ve snuck in?
I don’t think so. Those were among my earlier entries. I probably wouldn’t write entries like that these days.
Now, this could just be me but when I first heard about Wikipedia I liked the word so much I found myself adding the prefix “Wiki” to other words. Is that a common phenomenon?
Certainly for the Wikipedia community. There’s a Wiktionary, Wikibooks and other parallel projects. It’s sort of like the Smurfs; any word can get “Wiki” added to the front of it making a special “Wiki” variety of it.
Wikied. What’s next career-wise? This is not something you get paid for.
I’m not getting paid anything but I’m getting interviewed by people from U of T Magazine. And a year from now Wikipedia will be twice as noticeable, twice as popular. So I don’t know where this will end up going. If I got a job I’d have to scale down the Wikipedia contributions a lot.
You won a Wikipedia award for one of your articles.
Yes, it was for a piece on the economy of Africa. I got a coffee mug and a T-shirt.
And you’re going around saying you’re not being paid? Was it called a Wikiward?