By now, it’s second nature. When you come across an unfamiliar name, you search for it online. Google’s algorithm typically includes the relevant Wikipedia pages near the top of its search results. But what happens when that person doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry? How does that change your perception of their importance?
For Wikipedia editors like Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, this issue of online visibility — or lack thereof — is closely tied to the number of biographical articles about women on Wikipedia. Back in 2014, Stephenson-Goodknight co-founded the Women in Red movement with a mission to improve the encyclopedia’s coverage of women’s biographies, works by women, and women’s issues. For her efforts, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales presented Stephenson-Goodknight with the 2016 award for Co-Wikipedian of the Year.
As we near the end of Women’s History Month, it’s worth reflecting how Stephenson-Goodknight and her colleagues have affected the content and the culture of the fifth most visited website in the world.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Stephenson-Goodknight by phone. This interview has been edited and condensed.
How did you get started editing Wikipedia?
Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight: On June 4, 2007, I was in San Francisco, working out of my son Sean’s apartment. I was telecommuting that day instead of being in my office. In the afternoon, I took a break and was searching for things on Wikipedia. I tried to find an article regarding Book League of America, a publisher whose books I collect. But I couldn’t find it. At first, I thought that maybe I misspelled it or the capitalization was wrong, but none of these seemed to be the problem. I thought to myself, “Wow, there’s no article on this subject. How is that possible?”
Here it was, 2007, and I thought there was an article about everything on Wikipedia. Then I remembered that Sean had edited Wikipedia while he was in the Peace Corps. I thought, “If Sean can figure this out, I bet I can, too.” So, I created a username and started the article on Book League of America, and it still exists today.