Learning Search

Falling In a Rabbit Hole and Landing on Wikipedia

Some days ResearchBuzz feels like a process of deliberately setting out to find rabbit holes and then struggling not to fall down them.

Case in point was recently when I read about a place called the Mahakan Fort Community in Thailand, the the plans for it to live on digitally after it is torn down.

Wait, there’s a fort in Thailand? Of course there is, there are forts everywhere. But people live there? Why? Are they defending something? Why is it being pulled down? Where will the people go?

In cases like this, when I have only the faintest idea of what I’m reading about, I like to do a little looking around and put in a couple of links for readers who (unless they’re in Thailand or thereabouts) might be as clueless as I am. I usually start with Wikipedia to get some context, then move over into ideally news stories or information from educational institutions.

However with this Thailand story I had a little trouble with a Wikipedia search. Mahakan Fort apparently doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page; instead it’s part of the Fortifications of Bangkok page. Here’s part of what the page says about Mahakan Fort at this writing:

Near Mahakan Fort, between the city wall and the canal, lies an old community whose wooden houses serve as an example of historic vernacular architecture. The community has been engaged in a decades-long struggle against eviction by the BMA, which intends to develop the area as a public park. Although agreements had been made in the 2000s to preserve and develop the neighbourhood as a living museum, the deals later broke down, and the BMA began demolishing houses whose owners accepted compensation in 2016. Other residents are still resisting eviction as of 2017, and there are still hopes that some of the buildings will be preserved.

I know from the recent Nation article that this information is out of date, and it’s not the first time I’ve wanted to update a Wikipedia page with new information, but somehow this really bothered me. All those people, losing their homes, but having an initiative for their community to live on in an online archive. And Wikipedia didn’t know about it.

Mahakan Fort made me decide I really needed to learn to edit Wikipedia entries. And trying before, I found it somewhat difficult and off-putting. But today I’m going to learn it properly, and I’m going to write down what I learn, and maybe the next time you see some outdated information on a Wikipedia page,  you can edit it too.

Getting Started And Creating an Account

I thought I created a Wikipedia account a long time ago when I first started trying to get into Wikipedia editing, but either I didn’t or it was deleted long since for inactivity. So my first stop was the Wikipedia account creation page.

screenshot from 2018 04 25 20 12 14

Getting Started

Once I created an account and logged in, Wikipedia kindly offered to get me started on editing an article:

screenshot from 2018 04 25 20 15 24

But when I clicked here, it dropped me into the page for a prominent family, gave me a few pointers, and basically said “bye!”


The page was for the Qubain family, and while I guess I could have edited grammar and spelling errors if I found any, but being given this site to edit made me really uncomfortable. You’re dropping me into an article about a prominent family which (it is pointedly mentioned in the article) is Christian and originates from Jordan and I’m just supposed to edit it and it’ll be fine? No! I think I understand Wikipedia’s intentions here but maybe they could stick to pages that are a little less controversial for beginners.

(Please note I’m not trying to express anything pejorative about the Qubain family or the Middle East or Jordan. I’m noting when you have a page wherein one of the primary points is that a family was one of the first Christian families in a particular part of Jordan, you might be worried that you screw up an edit or just make a dopey noob mistake that is going to get taken wrong.)

Okay, wait a minute, I have a notification in my Wikipedia inbox, which is at the upper right part of the screen. And that is linking me to a Wikipedia help page! Yay! (Why didn’t they start here?) And there’s a basic guide to Wikipedia markup, which is a multi-step walkthrough of Wikipedia editing. It is decidedly unfriendly. It’s better than it was the last time I looked at it a few years ago, but I can understand why Wikipedia doesn’t have millions of regular editors.

Okay, this is frustrating. I’m going to quit trying to follow these unfriendly instructions and just dive in and take a swing at updating the Makahan Fort page. Ohai visual editor!

screenshot from 2018 04 26 18 56 59

There have been mentions of a visual editor, but if it’s not any friendlier than the markup editor I don’t think I’m going to like it. It won’t hurt to try it, anyway.

screenshot from 2018 04 26 20 12 55

That’s it? That’s the editor?

Wikipedia has an editor that looks like something you see in WordPress and yet it’s trying to get me to use the text-based markup system?


I didn’t remember a Wikipedia visual editor the last time I tried to get into editing Wikipedia, so I went and checked Wikipedia’s page on its own visual editor. It’s surprisingly negative, noting a study that indicated a visual editor did not help users make edits. I’m going to try it anyway.

No negativity here! It was very easy for me to pop in a couple of sentences about the evictions of the remaining residents and even add a citation mentioning the article from The Nation. I did not edit the previous information in the paragraph, as there were citations and I wanted them to stay there. Even putting in my own citation was easy – clicked on Cite in the menu bar and Wikipedia walked me through it.

screenshot from 2018 04 26 20 21 26

Also on the menu bar to the far right there’s a Publish Changes button. Click on that and you’ll get a box where you can describe the changes you made, indicate if the edit is minor or not (minor edits do things like fix spelling) and give you the option to watch the page.

screenshot from 2018 04 26 20 32 02

Once you provide that, you’ll get one more screen to review your changes before you publish them. I admire the thoroughness.

screenshot from 2018 04 26 20 35 31 1

I clicked Publish Changes, and the changes published. Right? Nope. I had to do one more thing, a CAPTCHA:

screenshot from 2018 04 26 20 38 41

I filled in the CAPTCHA, clicked Publish Changes, and — they went live. I have successfully edited Wikipedia.

screenshot from 2018 04 26 20 47 08

I have to tell you, I went into this with the expectation that I was going to have to learn a markup language for Wikipedia and I was going to get it wrong and it was going to be a big headache. My initial registration experience reinforced that belief. Instead, I found the visual editor, which was fast and intuitive. So fast and intuitive, in fact, that I’m wondering if I can fit editing Wikipedia into my ResearchBuzz workflow.

I completely understand if longtime editors who are familiar with the markup language want to keep using it — I still make the ResearchBuzz digest posts in a text editor, using HTML, and then copy and paste them into WordPress. (I write the articles in Google Docs.) Can’t help but wonder, though, how many potential editors Wikipedia is losing by not making the visual editor front and center and encouraging users to start with that.

If you’ve not gotten into Wikipedia editing because you found it intimidating, take a look at the visual editor. Make sure you’re logged in, go to a page, click Edit, and then make sure you’re set to Visual Editing instead of Source Editing. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised! 

Categories: Learning Search, News

Tagged as: ,

3 replies »

  1. Thanks for the once-over on Wikipedia’s “Visual Editing” tool. I recently chased down a partial reference that had been marked in blue with a ‘help’ plea. Info in hand, I went into the editing mode and soon found myself both lost and awash. Rather than risk making a mess of things I simply e-mailed the completed reference along with identification of the article it was meant to fix to the Wikipedia ‘contact us’ address. So far… crickets.

  2. I love your screenshots and reading your experience using the visual editor!

    My latest rabbit hole with Wikipedia was getting lost in guidelines and tutorials before actually starting. Have you seen the GLAM-Wiki initiatives Beginner’s Guide to Editing Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:GLAM/Beginner%27s_guide_to_Wikipedia)? I think the Tutorial and Wikipedia Adventure (under “Wikipedia Tutorial”) look promising, but I haven’t carved out time to try them yet. I ended my rabbit hole journey by bookmarking them and the WikiEdu Student Training Modules (https://dashboard.wikiedu.org/training/students). No more Wikipedia-training rabbit holes for me until I’ve gone through these and begun editing! Except this post…but it came to me via email, so I wasn’t really in a rabbit hole…just close to it. 😉

    If you explore any of these resources, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them! I’ve been wanting to contribute to Wikipedia for YEARS, and am looking forward to actually doing it soon.

Leave a Reply