I intended to start editing Wikipedia for a couple of years before I started actually doing it. I was put off not so much by the wiki code, but by the endless lists of rules, tutorials, style guides, best practice guides, etc. I’m the kind of person who reads the fucking manual, who makes an effort to learn the community’s established ways of doing things first instead of crashing straight in, but with Wikipedia there seems to be an infinite amount of information that you “should” read before getting started.
Eventually I did a reality check: I’m an Internet-savvy hobbyist web developer, I’ve participated in lots of online communities, and if I can’t learn everything I need to get started on Wikipedia in 15 or 20 minutes that’s Wikipedia’s problem, not mine.
Since then I’ve developed a nice comfortable rhythm with it. I’m not one of the core Wikipedians who’ve edited tens of thousands of articles. I never go out of my way to edit Wikipedia. But if I’m reading an article and come across a typo, or a mistake that I know how to fix, I’ll fix it. If I can’t find the information I need on Wikipedia and end up finding it elsewhere, I’ll add the research I’ve already done to Wikipedia, essentially creating the article of article section I was looking for in the first place. It feels good that I’m contributing to a shared project that benefits people around the world, and it also feels good to have a way of contributing that’s a sustainable and efficient use of my time.
Wikipedia is seen as having a particular culture: valuing openness, cooperation and transparency, commited to the idea of “neutrality”, often adversarial and prone to edit wars and aggressive behaviour. I see myself as only partly fitting into this culture. I put the word “neutrality” in scare-quotes because I don’t believe it exists: what English-language Wikipedia calls “A neutral point of view”, I would call “Representing as closely as possible the range of views currently expressed in English-language publications that fit Wikipedia’s definition of ‘reputable'”. To show my problem with the concept of “neutrality” as starkly as possible: if there had been a German-language Wikipedia in the 1930s there would have been an article on “The Jewish Question” which would have contained two points of view: a hardline view that Jews were the cause of all Germany’s problems, and a more moderate view that Jews were mostly harmless as long as they were prevented from having certain jobs and had their rights curtailed in various other ways. The (correct) view that Jews should have equal human rights to everyone else would not even have appeared on the page, because it wasn’t part of mainstream discourse at the time.