Wanted: Well-educated, computer-literate individuals with superior writing skills, plenty of free time and an interest in contributing to the social good.
Would you think seniors fit the requirements?
You would if you’re Wikimedia Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that operates the free, online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Its Czech Republic chapter has put computer-savvy seniors to work as Wikipedians—the folks who write and edit Wikipedia entries.
Wikipedia’s seniors project was the vision of Professor Jan Sokola, a well-known Czech philosopher, presidential candidate —and active senior.
“He himself is a Wikipedian who suggested in a talk that seniors make ideal Wikipedians,” Vojtěch Dostál, chair of Wikipedia Czech Republic, told Senior Planet. Not only do they have the time; seniors may also have better grammar than younger Czechoslovakians and a rare depth of knowledge.
Wikipedia, an encyclopedia that anyone can edit, is written and edited in their spare time by volunteers all over the world. Its contributors include surgical residents in India, engineers in South Africa, English literature scholars, and just regular folks everywhere.
Wikipedia’s Senior Program
The senior program, Dostál said, strives to involve computer- and Internet-savvy retirees who are willing to learn new things and interested in writing the encyclopedia entries.
“Participants attend free, weekly two-hour training sessions held in a local library over six weeks,” he said, “and are encouraged to also work from home to improve their skills.”
After completing the initial course, the seniors are considered Wikipedians and can write or edit entries, but there is also an advanced course if they’d like to learn more.
Some 100 seniors completed the first program in Prague, most of them female university graduates over age 60. Courses have recently been added in several other Czech cities.
What’s Involved in Being a Wikipedian?
Becoming a Wikipedian means learning how to navigate the website, becoming familiar with how Wikipedia works and creating a profile. After that, it’s not hard to correct mistakes or add information to existing articles, create new entries and upload photos. For many younger people, all this is intuitive; the senior training program is designed for older people who might lack the confidence or be afraid to make an error. (In fact, errors are easy to fix, and if you don’t fix it, someone else is sure to do so promptly.)
Instead of being given assignments, Wikipedians in the seniors program are asked to write about topics of personal interest to them.
“We do not assign projects to anyone—editing Wikipedia should be fun,” Dostál said. “If someone isn’t sure what to write about, we ask about their hobbies, their career and their life.”
Because young, technical men are over-represented among Wikipedians, Dostál said, Wikipedia content tends to skew toward their interests. Getting more seniors as well as women involved can help provide balance and offer younger people the opportunity to learn from their knowledge.
Quoted in the Czech online magazine VitalPlus, one senior Wikipedian who came through the program said she had found a lack of biographical entries on lesser-known artists. She’s been focusing on filling that gap by writing about painters who she knew personally.
The Wikipedia Community
All Wikipedians are unpaid, and the seniors join a community of more than 75,000 active contributors responsible for most of the encyclopedia’s more than 36 million articles in 291 languages. Some 3 million new articles were created in the past year alone, and many others were improved by the edits of Wikipedians. The scale is vast: over 26 million registered editors have contributed to Wikipedia since it began.
Since the Foundation has a staff of only 280 and is funded solely by donations and foundation grants, volunteer Wikipedians are vital to the encyclopedia’s success and to keeping it accurate and current.
“We are very grateful that seniors and other Wikipedians decided to devote time to our encyclopedia,” Dostál said.
Today, more than 10 Czech cities want to organize similar initiatives. The biggest obstacle isn’t money — it’s finding enough Wikipedia teachers.
“We will have to train some Wikipedians to teach in the program,” Dostál said.
Getting Involved in Wikipedia
No senior programs have been initiated in the U.S., but Wikimedia is open to the idea. Funding is key. The Wikimedia Foundation funded the original project through its grants program for experimental small projects. Today, Seniors Write Wikipedia is funded out of Wikimedia’s Czech Republic chapter resources and a grant from a Czech IT company.
But anyone can become a Wikipedian — you don’t have to be specially trained to contribute as a writer or editor. The foundation offers several online how-tos for people who want to share their knowledgeable by writing or editing the encyclopedia. The Wikipedia community also has specific projects awaiting volunteers. Among them is Women in Red. Since only 15 percent of the encyclopedia’s biographical entries are about women (there’s that gender bias that Dostál referred to), English language Wikipedia is welcoming volunteers to create women’s biographies and articles about women’s works. A similar project has sprung up around the subject of African football.
- Start with a quick tutorial on how to register with Wikipedia.
- You can then read instructions for creating a Wikipedia page
- And get guidance for your first Wikipedia article
Do you use Wikipedia? Have you ever made a Wikipedia edit or written an entry? Share your experience in the comments below.