Mr Wiki

Mike Dick­i­son is our first Wikipedean-atLarge.

North & South - - Contents -

Mike Dick­i­son has a PHD in zo­ol­ogy, specif­i­cally on the evo­lu­tion of gi­ant flight­less birds. He’s worked as an aca­demic re­searcher, a teacher and, for the past four years, the cu­ra­tor of nat­u­ral his­tory at Whanganui Re­gional Mu­seum.

A ded­i­cated en­to­mol­o­gist, he’s a reg­u­lar on RNZ’S pop­u­lar Crit­ter of the Week. And now he’s New Zealand’s first Wikipedian-at-large, thanks to a $61,000 grant that will see him spend the next 12 months tour­ing the coun­try, spread­ing the Wiki word. “I’ve mainly been in per­ma­nent po­si­tions,” he says, “so I’m a lit­tle ap­pre­hen­sive to give that up and live out of a suit­case. But I have a rough plan.”

One of 11 suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants world­wide in this lat­est fund­ing round, Dick­i­son will work on out­reach pro­grammes, recruit ed­i­tors and in­crease pub­lic aware­ness about the site. The fifth most-vis­ited web­site in the world (and the only non-profit in the top 10), Wikipedia con­tains some 40 mil­lion ar­ti­cles, in more than 300 lan­guages. How­ever, when Dick­i­son first be­came in­volved as a vol­un­teer in 2009, he dis­cov­ered cov­er­age of New Zealand top­ics was sparse. “It wasn’t a par­tic­u­lar bias, we just don’t have many peo­ple edit­ing here.”

In 2012, he formed a com­mu­nity group called Whanganui Wiki Wed­nes­day that met once a month, learn­ing to edit on lo­cal pages. From there, he be­gan run­ning Wiki work­shops around the coun­try – re­motely and in per­son – on every­thing from threat­ened species to fe­male sci­en­tists. “Science com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a very im­por­tant part of what I do.”

While any­one can edit on Wikipedia, there are very spe­cific rules: en­tries must con­tain re­li­able sources, con­tent must be freely avail­able and li­censed, and there’s no place for per­sonal opin­ion or pla­gia­rism.

Dick­i­son has al­ready sched­uled in time at Auck­land Mu­seum, Zealan­dia, Otago Mu­seum, and with For­est and Bird. A key part of his mis­sion will be build­ing up a base of vol­un­teer ed­i­tors. “I’m not just run­ning train­ing work­shops,” he says. “I’m also re­cruit­ing, set­ting up sup­port groups and trou­bleshoot­ing, with the goal to es­tab­lish ac­tual edit­ing com­mu­ni­ties, be­cause it’s the ed­i­tors who do all the work.”

While trav­el­ling the coun­try, Dick­i­son will also use the op­por­tu­nity to keep up with his en­to­mol­ogy work. “My 4WD is not only my mo­bile of­fice, it’s also my en­to­mol­ogy field sta­tion,” he says. “There are plas­tic bins with my en­to­mol­ogy kit, field gear [col­lect­ing ves­sels, nets, pin­ning sup­plies, a por­ta­ble mi­cro­scope], elec­tron­ics and a tent. So I can set up camp and work pretty much any­where there’s a wifi sig­nal.” ELIS­A­BETH EASTHER

* To find out more about the project, search WP:NZWPAL on (where else?) Wikipedia.

Mike Dick­i­son in the Auck­land Mu­seum li­brary.

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