I'm Steven Pruitt - Wikipedia user name Ser Amantio di Nicolao - and I was featured on CBS Saturday Morning a few weeks ago due to the fact that I'm the top editor, by edit count, on the English Wikipedia. Here's my user page:


Several people have asked me to do an AMA since the piece aired, and I'm happy to acquiesce...but today's really the first time I've had a free block of time to do one.

I'll be here for the next couple of hours, and promise to try and answer as many questions as I can. I know y'all require proof: I hope this does it, otherwise I will have taken this totally useless selfie for nothing:https://imgur.com/a/zJFpqN7

Fire away!

Edit: OK, I'm going to start winding things down. I have to step away for a little while, and I'll try to answer some more questions before I go to bed, but otherwise that's that for now. Sorry if I haven't been able to get to your question. (I hesitate to add: you can always e-mail me through my user page. I don't bite unless provoked severely.)

Comments: 4163 • Responses: 93  • Date: 

galaxybeans836474 karma

Was there ever a point when you just sat back and asked yourself why you were putting this much time and effort in?

SerAmantiodiNicolao17961 karma

I have my moments...I think everyone does. But then I look back on some of the articles I've written - especially on subjects that have had no online presence before - and it feels good. That wonderful feeling of having made something useful. That's what keeps me going, often as not.

Besides, I know it sounds cheesy, but I've come to believe that we, collectively, are changing the world and the way the world thinks about knowledge. That's an amazing thing to think about, and it still blows my mind.

16yocanadianAMA3762 karma

you sound like a really good guy. you didn’t deserve any of the hate you were getting on twitter. you’re doing a great service for everyone

SerAmantiodiNicolao4012 karma

You're very kind, thanks.

What's that line about pleasing some of the people all of the time, and all? I long ago came to grips with the fact that I won't be universally loved. Twitter just means "universal" is...a bit bigger than it used to be. :-)

SpeakLikeAChild0483 karma

For those unaware, girls and women on Twitter were saying that Steve looks like a loser and a 40 year-old virgin.

trama-doll190 karma

They're the actual losers, Steve is a goddamn legend haha

SerAmantiodiNicolao268 karma

Whatever happened to "man" and "myth"? I feel cheated, somehow... :-)

galaxybeans83493 karma

I absolutely love that outlook of collectively changing the world and the way we think about knowledge. That idea alone is enough to inspire a dream in someone else, and that's a wonderful thing.

SerAmantiodiNicolao812 karma

And that's a huge part of why I stick with it.

I mean, my teachers used to say "anyone can change the world", and we'd have those motivational assemblies, and I'd start snickering behind my hand and say "yeah, right" (in my head, of course.) And then one day, I started looking at what I was doing, and I realized that maybe it wasn't such a farfetched notion after all. I'm far from alone - Wikipedia has made that potential accessible to anyone, and many people have taken up the challenge. I'm just lucky enough to get a bit more attention for it, is all.

KeepClean1105192 karma

Hey Steven,

As someone who have always struggled with writing and a feeling of never understanding text-book information to a point; I just want to really thank you. Wikipedia has taught me so much and always in a way that challenged me and at the same time made me better and more informed. Who gives a shit if I’m reading about the holocaust or power rangers. I’m learning. For free. You are among the great pioneers of the internet. I applaud you.

SerAmantiodiNicolao201 karma

And that's why Wikipedia's important, and why I think it's important to contribute. Thanks very much for the kind words.

Very_Good_Opinion177 karma

You really are changing the world. I often see redditors that think if something isn't readily searchable online then it is false or doesn't exist.

Wikipedia will go down as one of mankind's greatest achievements

SerAmantiodiNicolao342 karma

Jimmy Wales once said, "We make the internet not suck." I see no reason to doubt his assessment.

lynsea105 karma

Complete noob here, is it simple(ish) to author a new page? That was one of my favorite parts about grad school. The fact that what I was learning and what I was researching didn't have a wiki page I could turn to. I'm interested in contributing my small but specific bit of knowledge to the world in some way.

SerAmantiodiNicolao207 karma

Reasonably. I think it's more difficult than it used to be to get into the syntax, but there are some tools (Visual Editor, for instance) designed to make it easier for people to hop in. My recommendation? Open up a few articles and start editing them - little syntax fixes, spelling fixes, that sort of thing. That's how I learned to do it when I got started.

lynsea42 karma

I'll do that, thanks! The only edits I've made so far were obvious spelling errors, spam edits, or things I knew were unsupported by evidence. Simple text only.

SerAmantiodiNicolao53 karma

Keep it up - that's a great way to get your feet wet.

Accomplished_Square5987 karma

Have you ever been approached with an offer from a person or company to create or change a page(s) to view more favorably or unfavorably?

SerAmantiodiNicolao7651 karma

I've had a couple of people ask me to create articles for them. One or two have offered to pay me.

Generally I will say no: I said yes once, but that was because I genuinely felt the subject deserved an article, and would pass the notability test. (Didn't take any money for it, I should add.) Someone I'd never heard of before.

MegaPorkachu1458 karma

Do you take users (not companies) requesting an article to be made, if it doesn’t exist?

SerAmantiodiNicolao1631 karma

No, generally. I don't answer most such requests.

oxymoronic_oxygen252 karma

What was the one that you did?

SerAmantiodiNicolao945 karma

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Douglas_Patrick - there was an auction of his effects, and the auctioneer asked me if I'd mind creating an article.

In this case I said yes because he looked like the sort of person I'd probably write about sooner or later, assuming I found him in my research. Most importantly, he has work in the Nelson-Atkins, a major museum.

supergoldisme245 karma

Sorry, may be a stupid question but do they provide all of the information or do you tend to add some stuff yourself? If so, where do you research? Wikipedia? Jk about that last part. And thank you!

SerAmantiodiNicolao517 karma

Oh, no. I did the research myself. Don't remember where, offhand - whatever's in the sources. I do recall finding an online dictionary of Kansas artists which I wanted to pursue further, but never got around to it.

metsmetsmetsmets3707 karma

Do you do this for free? And if so, why?

SerAmantiodiNicolao7331 karma

Yep. Wikipedia's a free community - it wouldn't feel right asking for money to edit. It's a hobby. One that has taken over my life a bit, but a hobby nonetheless.

Ficalos266 karma

Have you ever thought about Patreon or something? Not taking money out of the Wikipedia coffers, but just for people who like your work in particular and want to support you.

Would you even want to do it full time?

SerAmantiodiNicolao621 karma

Want to? I already do. :-)

I'm torn on the idea of a Patreon. Money's always nice, but I can't help but feel that it's a little against the Wikipedia ethos to ask for it. Regardless, I don't have one for the moment.

asoue02979 karma

Do you have a favorite article?

SerAmantiodiNicolao4031 karma

Of my own? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pohick_Church - I didn't create it, but I expanded it considerably.
I also often refer to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joanna_Quiner - she's a fascinating figure about whom I knew nothing before beginning to write her up.

Others - including a few mentioned elsewhere - but these are the first that come to mind.

ThisNameIsntCreative1135 karma

What do you normally do to research articles?

SerAmantiodiNicolao2068 karma

Depends - I'll search stuff out in books, or online, wherever I can find something. Often I'll look something up online and that will start me down the path. Other times I'll see something in a book and run with it. Depends very much on the topic.

Liquor_N_Whorez1361 karma

Is it hard to read with a post it note on your head and do you frequently change the post it notes?

SerAmantiodiNicolao1518 karma

Every day. It gets difficult choosing an acronym, though.

asoue0118 karma

Thanks so much!

SerAmantiodiNicolao177 karma

Any time. :-)

Urgotaniceash32895 karma

As you may know, many institutions tell students that “Wikipedia isn’t a credible source, therefore you cannot use it”.

Do you believe that wiki is credible or do you think it still needs a lot of work to reach that point?

Edit: Wow!! My first Reddit silver! Thank you so much! I never thought I’d ever get one because I never have good comments haha.

SerAmantiodiNicolao4883 karma

It's credible...studies show it to be more credible than many print sources.

Also, I've found some real howlers of mistakes in print sources.

Which is just to say...use a variety. But if I were teaching I wouldn't ban students from using Wikipedia - it's a potential source just like any other.

TheCrowGrandfather228 karma

No OP here but I have edited a few Wikipedia articles. Most of my edits were edited within minutes to correct my inherent bais or spelling mistakes. Apparently there are tools that monitor pages constantly and alert for changes and check for things that don't make sense.

Personally if consider Wikipedia very credible because theres people like OP who monitor it and fix errors constantly

SerAmantiodiNicolao298 karma

I've felt that for some time - I think Wikipedia is largely self-cleaning, as it were, and the community fixes lots of stuff pretty quickly.

Nobody's perfect, but we try. :-)

squid50s2690 karma

How did you learn about Wikipedia?

P.S. Thank you for all of your edits on Wikipedia, I’m sure you’ve helped countless people.

SerAmantiodiNicolao3737 karma

It started in 2001...I matriculated college in 2002. I remember watching it climb in the Google search results, from the bottom of the first page to about two or three from the top. Honestly, I didn't think it was going to take off...but it kept showing up, and one day I though, "What the hell?", and jumped in. I'm not sure I believed the "anyone can edit" part of it until I became part of "everyone".

trama-doll1610 karma

Oh the hero we all deserve! Good on you mate!

How did this all begin? How many hours a week do you typically spend editing Wiki? What else do you do with your time?

You've personally inspired me to finally donate to Wikipedia. :)

SerAmantiodiNicolao2206 karma

It began back in 2004. I was an early adopter of Wikipedia...I was in college at the time, and it kept turning up in my search results on Google. And one day I decided to finally play around with it and see what would result. This was the result, eventually:

(Be gentle. It's far from my best work. :-) )

It allows me to scratch the academic itch without having to go for a Ph.D. Haven't looked back since.

I spend, on average, two to three hours a night on Wikipedia. Maybe more, on the weekends...but it varies. Otherwise I work, same as the next guy. Sing in a choir one night a week. Do grocery runs now and again...that sort of thing.

And thanks for your donation. :-)

christophertin1711 karma

Hi! You've actually edited my page! In fact, your last edit was just a couple weeks ago. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Tin

And you sing in choirs! Great!

(I'm sort of weirdly star struck meeting you here.)

SerAmantiodiNicolao343 karma

Thanks very much for the kind words. :-) An incredible honor to hear.

(Though there's no need to be star struck - I promise I don't bite. :-) )

christophertin313 karma

If you're in DC, I'll be premiering my next album there in 2020. You should come!

SerAmantiodiNicolao274 karma

Thanks for the invite. Any idea where, yet?

christophertin239 karma

Details are still being sorted out, but we're thinking either Constitution Hall or Strathmore, roughly in the summer. I usually do a meet and greet too afterwards, and it would be great to meet you!

SerAmantiodiNicolao200 karma

Thanks. I'll keep it in mind.

(I'd say Strathmore. The acoustics are better, I'm told - never been to Constitution Hall.)

mparrish600194 karma

I once was lambasted by John Mulaney at Constitution Hall, for showing up late to his set, in front of thousands of people. I still have PTSD and can never go back there.

SerAmantiodiNicolao74 karma

My folks have been several times over the years - I think it was the go-to space for opera before they built the Kennedy Center. I haven't been - Washington Opera used it for a few years while their space was being renovated, but I was in college at the time.

I love Strathmore, now - that's a hall. I even sang there once.

erininva126 karma

Tenor, bass, or something else? And what kind of music do you like to sing?

SerAmantiodiNicolao278 karma

First tenor. My choir does a lot of eclectic stuff...lots of American folk (shape-note, if you're familiar...and our composer-in-residence works with Shaker music a lot) and Eastern Orthodox music. We're actually going to Georgia (Tbilisi) in June to perform some Georgian music: here's a bit more about our work in that arena.

Plus a steady diet of the classics - Handel, Faure, that sort of thing. Our winter concert was Bolivian Baroque music.

erininva46 karma

Yes, I did some shape-note singing back in college, but it’s been ages. (Alto 2 here. Didn’t realize you were in the Capitol Hill Chorale!) Now you’ve got me curious about Bolivian Baroque. I’ll have to check Wikipedia . . . . :0)

SerAmantiodiNicolao58 karma

We did a mass by this guy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roque_Ceruti
Also this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanacpachap_cussicuinin

Unfortunately, I had very little voice that weekend, due to a rather nasty cold.

Come check us out - we have our next concerts in mid-March. :-)

trama-doll50 karma

That's really cool. I figured it was an autodidactic, academic endeavour! What are some of your best works? I'd love to see :) (Am reading your first work now).

And what topics have you found yourself covering that you never thought you'd be drawn to? You must get sucked down a rabbit hole of information sometimes and find yourself in some unexpected places!

SerAmantiodiNicolao152 karma

Some of my favorite articles that I've created:




https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pohick_Church - didn't create this, but I expanded it.

Just a small cross-section of the kinds of stuff I like to do. Largely women or people from underrepresented cultures/roles, especially who have very little presence online otherwise.

I get sucked down a LOT of rabbit holes, trust me. :-) I never thought I'd be able to write as much about shape note as I have, for instance...there's not that much scholarship available, and nothing substantial online. Same with artists from the District of Columbia...I have a handful of sources. None of them online. But I've been able to put something together for the casual researcher to find on the internet.

thismightbelong42 karma

What do you do for work?

SerAmantiodiNicolao135 karma

Records management for US Customs and Border Protection. Disseminating policy, moving records, that sort of thing.

KillerJohn_1231312 karma

How do you motivate yourself when someone rejected your edits?

SerAmantiodiNicolao2132 karma

If someone reverts an edit I've made, I try not to sweat it - in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter that much. I figure either a.) it was worthwhile, in which case someone else will come along and redo it, or b.) it wasn't, really, in which case no harm no foul.

Otherwise I try not to let it get me down. It's just the internet - no sense in getting wound up about it.

trama-doll497 karma

Have you ever got some guy making it their mission to redo your edits and compete with you? Like a troll?

Is there a nice community amongst Wiki editors or is it a mostly solo endeavour?

TRK27830 karma

Wikipedian here (semi-retired), not on Steven's scale but I have written a little over 250 articles.

  1. Such a user would be blocked almost immediately. If it were just straightforward vandalism you would report them to WP:AIV or WP:ANI (the latter for more complex situations) and they would be blocked. If they keep coming back with alternate accounts (sockpuppets) you can take them to WP:SPI and potentially get their IP range blocked from account creation.

    There are more subtly problematic users though, and dealing with them may involve arbitration and sanctions. I remember one guy in particular (not going to name names changed my mind, see below) who was mostly active on literature-related articles. He was an extremely knowledgeable and capable researcher but was also extremely opinionated and combative. He ended up getting banned for harassing other users and coordinating the harassment off-site. Hilariously enough he was unbanned years later on the condition that he was only allowed to edit a single article.

    There's a rogue's gallery of the more straightforward trolls who keep coming back if you're interested, (note that the names link to more detailed case studies) and there's also a list of the lamest editing conflicts between users.

  2. This depends. The creation of individual articles is mostly solo, I would say, while improvement of articles is a group effort, especially if the plan is to steer it toward a featured article review. Getting an article to FA status is a big endeavor and usually takes a team of around half a dozen editors. Often you'll know a bunch of editors who are interested in the same subjects you are from running into them on other articles. If you were looking to get an article to FA you might go around to their user talk pages and drop feelers, or you might go to the talk page of a related WikiProject (For instance the WPVA) in order to get the attention of its members. The roles the individual editors take are ad-hoc and any coordination is hashed out on talk pages.

    For instance, when I was part of the team that was working the article on the German painter Caspar David Friedrich up to FA status my main goal was to hunt down high quality images from museum websites, to stub out redlinks in the article by translating the relevant articles on his individual paintings from the German Wikipedia, and to fill out a list of his works as much as possible.

    So while I was creating individual articles on my own in this example, like The Sea of Ice, The Stages of Life, and The Monk by the Sea, these were created as part of a larger, overarching project that was coordinated between a larger community.

Edit: Thanks for the platinum! Shout-outs to my old WPVA buddies - Ceoil, Modernist, Johnbod, JNW, Kafka Liz, Uyvsdi, and Victoriaearle!

Edit 2: You know what, fuck it, the user who got themselves banned for being an asshole was Ottava Rima. I'm calling him out because I just remembered he listed my article William Blake's Illustrations of On the Morning of Christ's Nativity on his userpage as an article he had written despite this single (not particularly helpful) sentence being his sole contribution to it. Fuck you Ottava.

SerAmantiodiNicolao452 karma

Well-done on the article, I might add - I'm a huge fan of Friedrich's.

Thanks for the assist. :-)

SerAmantiodiNicolao387 karma

Possibly...I can't say I've noticed any.

I find Wikipedia a generally collegial atmosphere, at least for myself - I try not to lock horns with too many people, though I'm sure I've ruffled more than a few feathers along the way. I know there are pockets of unpleasantness, as there are with any online community. But the places I tend to hang out are pleasant. :-)

lapzkauz116 karma

You come across as a good guy, and that's on top of being the greatest contributor to the greatest website. Cheers!

SerAmantiodiNicolao246 karma

I try, thanks.

Something I once wrote in a comment thread, which seems to have resonated with a couple of folks:

I remember something I read, once, in Opera News about the great Tatiana Troyanos. Here was a woman that had every right to complain at the Fates over her lot in life...she was abandoned by her parents to an orphanage, and she battled health issues for many years before dying of cancer at 55. (I remember reading that selfsame article about her and being amazed at what she had overcome.) And yet she remained ever gracious in her career and her professional dealings. The writer of the article, I remember, recalled assisting in a Metropolitan Opera performance of Giulio Cesare in Egitto, in which Kathleen Battle was singing. Battle was then in the throes of some of her worst behavior, and she was really letting people have it over trivial matters. And the writer said that when the curtain fell, he was about ready to tell her off, when he felt a tug at his elbow. It was Troyanos - she took him aside, smiled, and said, "Don't. It doesn't matter."

It can be so tempting to get wound up over the least little thing around here. But every time I do, somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind...so deep that I feel her presence rather than hear it...I'm sure Troyanos is reminding me, too: "It doesn't matter." If she, with all that she overcame, could say it, then I damn well can, too.

ultranothing24 karma

I can hear people in the WP community saying, incredulously, "did you just revert a Pruitt edit?"

SerAmantiodiNicolao67 karma

Oh, I hope not. I put my pants on one leg at a time, same as the next editor. I emphatically do NOT want someone to think I'm infallible.

Tommytriangle1002 karma

Would you consider yourself an edit addict?

SerAmantiodiNicolao2149 karma

Yes - an edit-addicted autodidact. Dig it?

SteveTrigs7778 karma

Where’s your primary source of research?

SerAmantiodiNicolao1346 karma

Depends on the topic. Books, mostly - usually encyclopedias. I like starting with an encyclopedia entry because it shows me that someone else has already deemed the topic notable. I'll turn to web sources, too - anything that helps me flesh a subject out. Although that's tricky for older subjects...sometimes the only material is available in undigitized books, for instance.

But I'll use anything, so long as it passes the smell test. :-)

toomuchtodotoday1144 karma

Feel free to DM me; I’ll send you my email address. If you run into topics that only have undigitized books as sources, I’ll work to get those books digitized and into the Internet Archive so you can cite them digitally. I also have a Library of Congress research access pass if that might be helpful.

Thank you for your efforts! Check out “A Canticle for Leibowitz” sometime, I think you’d really dig it.

EDIT: Obligatory "thank you for the gold" edit :)

SerAmantiodiNicolao501 karma

Thanks very much. :-)

talldarkandpantsless770 karma

What's the most interesting or unexpected things you've learned while doing Wikipedia edits? Also, thank you for all you do!

SerAmantiodiNicolao701 karma

Apparently the house at the center of my elementary school campus was once owned by this guy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Kester

Our cross-country team used to run around the grounds of the Virginia Theological Seminary:

These folks used to live there:

usethisaccountmom704 karma

How have you made over 3 million edits? That sounds impossible.

SerAmantiodiNicolao1104 karma

I have a couple of tools that allow me to do large-scale editing. They're great for doing a lot of the day-to-day backend stuff that needs doing - recategorization, for instance. Template creation. Article cleanup. The sort of stuff that it would be near impossible to do manually.

There are several editors with edit counts over one million, and we all have access to similar tools.

spaceturtle1272 karma

I tried editing non-wikipedia wiki articles in the past, but was discouraged by the lack of simple tools and strict formatting rules. You get hit in the face with the raw text including the formatting code in an embedded window.

Maybe it is different today. I haven't checked the last few years.

Are those tools public or only for a select group of people?

SerAmantiodiNicolao314 karma

Semi-select. Generally you need to have passed a certain number of edits (500, I think? It's been ages.) before you have access to them. They're fairly straightforward otherwise - I'm not computer-savvy in the least, and I've taken to them fairly easily.

I know what you mean about the syntax - it's changed a lot since I started. The code used to be simpler than it is now. There are supposed to be some profile extensions which help new editors, but honestly I haven't used them much. I'm too used to my way of doing stuff, I suppose.

Ganesha811116 karma

There's now a tool called "visual editing" that lets you edit in plaintext without all the complicated syntax. When you go to the editing page for any article, it's in the top right of the text box. I use it a lot - it's just so, so much easier than the old way.

SerAmantiodiNicolao168 karma

Glad to hear it. I tried it once...couldn't get used to it.

He says, sounding like an old codger.

scozio427 karma

Will you be on my team for a pub quiz?

SerAmantiodiNicolao497 karma

Depends on what you're drinking. :-)

ThProphet385 karma

How much time do you spend correcting other pages?

SerAmantiodiNicolao674 karma

Most of it. Fixing typos, correcting syntax. Italicization - lack of italics is a bit of a pet peeve of mine.

I intend to get back to article writing soon, though.

TerroristOgre264 karma

Do you pronounce it gif or gif?

SerAmantiodiNicolao1185 karma

"Gif", of course.

xbnm118 karma

How do you feel about Wikipedia’s mobile site?

SerAmantiodiNicolao197 karma

It's gotten better. I used to hate the editing interface, but I think it's improved markedly in the past couple of years.

trambolino329 karma

First of all: Thank you for what you do!

Question: Ever tried out for a quiz show?

SerAmantiodiNicolao447 karma

No. I don't think I'd do well. I don't think fast enough under pressure, usually.

Slazman999157 karma

What is your favorite color?

SerAmantiodiNicolao633 karma

Blue. No, green. No...

Em_Adespoton280 karma

Do you make use of archive.org/Gutenberg for inspiration or original sources?

SerAmantiodiNicolao297 karma

I have. Not often...most of my print sources I own. Archive.org is quite useful, though - I've come across it from time to time.

macrobiome118 karma

You own?? Where do you mostly acquire your print sources?

side-note: I'm a medical student and I was just having a conversation with one of my colleagues about how we've come to find wikipedia more and more amazing as we've progressed in our education. Really appreciate your efforts!

SerAmantiodiNicolao169 karma

Amazon, mostly. Whatever's cheap. :-)

WikiProject Medicine has done a lot to make medical information more accessible. I don't do much on that score myself (being a humanities geek - you DON'T want me doing medical stuff, trust me) but I'm glad to hear it's showing results.

Vandechoz277 karma

what bias from other editors do you run into that makes things the most difficult for you?

SerAmantiodiNicolao541 karma

I wouldn't say that I run into conscious, day-to-day bias, exactly. The "bias" question is broader - I think it's not really present on the personal level so much as on a broader level. Systemic bias, especially...and that takes many forms. The gender gap gets is the most prominent, for good reason...not even 18% of the biographical articles on the English Wikipedia are about women, and that's actually better than it was a few years ago. But there are other types, too - geographic is also pervasive.

But I wouldn't say any of it makes things difficult for me...I'm doing my thing, and as long as my articles are sourced people generally seem to be OK with that.

TinyPirate94 karma

That a significant contributor cares about and is trying g to help with the bias issues on the site is really encouraging. Pleased I donated my $3 now - thanks!

SerAmantiodiNicolao100 karma

I've always been interested in women artists and composers. Women in Red just gives me the opportunity to do something worthwhile with that interest. :-)

swansung6 karma

Do you guys do anything to try to combat systemic bias?

SerAmantiodiNicolao14 karma

I'm affiliated with WikiProject Women in Red, which is working to write more notable women into Wikipedia:

In my own editing, I also try to look for people from underrepresented cultures/geographical locations. For instance, I've talked a bit about shape-note...that's severely underrepresented, so I'm doing what I can to change that. I've written some articles on women in religion - another field in which I find there's a huge dearth of online material. Nineteenth-century opera singers, also.

It's a collaborative effort - Wikipedia at its best. :-)

DunnyJ92267 karma

How are you today?

SerAmantiodiNicolao352 karma

I'm well, thanks. You?

topher_fronda219 karma

Why did you do it? Was it for the “good of humanity” or were you just bored or something

SerAmantiodiNicolao409 karma

"Good of humanity" sounds better, but really I was just bored. :-)

Besides, it gives me a chance to put all my esoteric knowledge to some good use...

midwescoast200 karma

Do you set goals or time limits on yourself?

SerAmantiodiNicolao277 karma

Sometimes. Not often...I'll work on an article as long as it takes to get it right.

Jadziyah182 karma

You say you've written subjects that had no online presence before. Can you give a few examples? How did it feel essentially introducing the world to them?

SerAmantiodiNicolao269 karma

A huge one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fati_Mariko
She has sold thousands of albums in Niger, but prior to writing the article the only thing I could find online was YouTube videos.

Also, several composers of shape-note music:

Each of them composed at least one fairly popular hymn, and yet almost no biographical information was available online before I wrote them up. (Which amazed me - Cagle was a huge deal in Southern shape-note communities during his life.)

seashoreandhorizon37 karma

I saw you mention shape-note music in another reply. It's always cool to bump into someone else who is familiar with shape-note and Sacred Harp. Thanks for your work in preserving this important piece of American musicology!

SerAmantiodiNicolao41 karma

Any time. There's a great book on the subject from University of Illinois Press, The Makers of the Sacred Harp. I've used it heavily for sourcing...it's about the only book I have found on the subject. Most of the information in those four articles comes from there.


What's the weirdest, most "wouldn't tell your parents" article you've created or edited?

SerAmantiodiNicolao222 karma

Weird? I can't think of anything, really. My interests are pretty tame.


Damn. Anything on Wikipedia:Unusual articles?

SerAmantiodiNicolao104 karma

I may have done, way back when.

Well, there is this:

Not that odd, but the title's definitely unwieldy.

Tommytriangle157 karma

I'm in the top 6,000 editors, with something like 25,000 edits. I edit here and there. I can't really wrap my head around someone with as many edits as you. Where do you find the time?

SerAmantiodiNicolao206 karma

Most evenings after work. I do a lot with AWB, for one thing.

I've also been at it for 13+ years, so I've had a lot of time to rack up edits. :-) Also went through a spell of unemployment a few years ago that gave me more free time than I'd have liked.

Scottishchicken130 karma

Do you ever put jokes in your edits just to see if people are paying attention?

SerAmantiodiNicolao274 karma

Heaven forfend. I sometime put a gag in the edit summary, and will admit to the occasional witticism in talkspace, but that's it.

VeganChops120 karma

What are your favorite “types” of Wikipedia articles to edit/write, and why?

SerAmantiodiNicolao225 karma

Most of the stuff I do is biographical. Artists, mostly, because my degree is in art history. But also musicians, politicians, historical figures.

I suppose my favorite type of biography is of someone who wouldn't ordinarily be part of the historical record, from an unlikely profession. For instance: I just purchased a dictionary of American folk art, and there are multiple entries in there for fraktur artists. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraktur_(folk_art)) for more.) I'm looking forward to writing them up...I don't believe there's a traditional general-interest encyclopedia out there which contains multiple entries for fraktur artists. Or shape-note composers, or notable Shakers, or other such figures...

Does that make sense? It's not just about expanding the historical record, for me - it's about having fun with taxonomy. (Words I thought I'd never say in my life, honestly.)

VeganChops23 karma

Makes perfect sense! I appreciate your work in expanding Wikipedia with stuff like this. It is important to share and record these pieces of history, no matter how small a part it may have played in the grand scheme of things. Having fun along the way is an excellent bonus.

Thanks for the reply!!

SerAmantiodiNicolao37 karma

These pieces of history are what add flavor to life - and to our knowledge of local geography and history. Another field in which I edit is DC history, mostly art history...I love being able to drive into town and pass a building, and say to myself "oh, so-and-so used to work there." Makes the city so much more colorful and interesting.

Tommytriangle109 karma

What ways do you think Wikipedia can be improved? Personally, I think it's a bit disorganized and anarchic. It's just people all over doing random things, and sometimes that generates wonder. But it's just so disorganized!

SerAmantiodiNicolao169 karma

I actually feel like it's gotten MORE organized over time, but I take your point.

I do a lot of stuff involving categorization. One thing I think has helped Wikipedia a lot is having categorization taken over by relevant Wikiprojects. So, for instance, art lovers develop categories based on their interests. Musicians, same. Etc. I think it's helped expand and refine the taxonomy.

I hear rumblings that categorization is going to change in a couple of years, but that's a different matter.

panmixia86 karma

in the first reddit thread I saw about you, someone referred to you as a modern day Monk. I thought that was an interesting analogy. Does that strike a chord?

Would you be open to an AI-bot that copies your techniques. Say if you took photographs of your source material and the associated wikipedia article, one may be able to automate your writing technique and wikipedia-izing of source material. What do you think about that?

SerAmantiodiNicolao197 karma

I think there's a great deal of room for bots on Wikipedia...experiments have been made, and I think they've proven to be effective. I'd avoid one which makes any attempt to copy a human editor...but there are other things a bot can do in the realm of article creation.

And I did want to be a Gregorian monk...but I never got the chants. (Joke is not mine, but I will use it as often as I can, shamelessly.)

ScaryPillow74 karma

As someone who undoubtedly does a lot of reading and writing on a computer, what is your ergonomic situation? Do you feel any strain on your shoulders/arms/wrists when typing? Eye-strain? Do you have any tips to minimize?

SerAmantiodiNicolao78 karma

I can't say that I've noticed anything yet, but I'm young. I expect it to tell within a few years, to be honest.

Hexagonal_Bagel68 karma

What subjects are you most interested in researching? Are there subjects you don’t enjoy, but still research so that they will be represented on Wikipedia?

SerAmantiodiNicolao111 karma

To answer the second part first...not really. I tend to avoid hard sciences and things like that because I don't really understand them. Otherwise, I enjoy history, I enjoy the humanities. Virginia history is especially fascinating to me...art history (for obvious reasons). African topics sometimes...the South Pacific. I'm eclectic. :-)

humanfromscratch67 karma

Thank you! Also, in all the topics you have covered- what has been your most profound discovery?

SerAmantiodiNicolao176 karma

Honestly? I know I keep coming back to her, but Joanna Quiner:

I was thunderstruck when I read about her. She's only the second American woman sculptor I've encountered born in the eighteenth century (the other being Patience Wright: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patience_Wright), and I'd never heard of her. Never seen her work. Never studied her, and I took a class on nineteenth-century American art in college. I thought she was a copyright trap before I started reading up on her. It's so interesting to me that she was unable to break through when Harriet Hosmer, Edmonia Lewis, or Anne Whitney did. And I was glad to be able to write her back into the history books, as it were. :-)

x20mike07x63 karma

Do you think you'll ever give up the hobby of editing wiki pages?

SerAmantiodiNicolao83 karma

Doubtful. I'll never say "never", but at the moment I doubt it.


How did TIME find out about you?

SerAmantiodiNicolao133 karma

I suspect they just looked at the list of top contributors and found my profile. Nothing fancy.

ButtsexEurope56 karma

You related to Scott Pruitt?

SerAmantiodiNicolao90 karma

Not to my knowledge...if we are, it's way, WAAAAAY back in the family tree somewhere.

batmanagram47 karma

What's your favorite type of article to edit?

SerAmantiodiNicolao69 karma

Biographical stuff - humanities, mostly. Art, music, history...smattering of politics now and again. Also lots of Virginia-related stuff.

dabbin_z33 karma

First off let me just say thank you.

My question for you would be, Since the majority of us use Wikipedia as a primary source for information, where did you get all your information to make the edits?

SerAmantiodiNicolao36 karma

Books, mostly. Sometimes the internet. Depends on what I'm writing about.

wubbaflubbaflame31 karma

Firstly- you are amazing. Truly. I’ve relied on your knowledge for many a sleepless night to wander into the abyss of knowledge.

Secondly- how are you so well versed in such an array of topics? We are not worthy!

SerAmantiodiNicolao35 karma

I'm not, really - I'm a decent generalist who read a lot as a kid and managed to retain most of it. I'm very much the absent-minded professor type without the academic setting.

Thanks very much for the kind words. :-)

AimostFrontPage21 karma

How often do you make edits that end up actually being false?

SerAmantiodiNicolao43 karma

Knowingly? Never.
Unknowingly? Don't know. :-)

Sandalman300021 karma

Did you work on the Toilet Paper Orientation page? That one is a classic for me.


What is your opinion on the narration for Namazu being taken down? One hand the voice was humourous, but it did accurately narrate the content. The narration can be heard on this page

SerAmantiodiNicolao13 karma

To the former: I don't believe I did. Thanks for pointing me in that direction.

To the latter: I don't get involved much in editing disputes over spoken articles, given that I don't use them much myself.

goodluch1320 karma

How do you feel about students using Wikipedia to conduct research? Would you say it’s gotten much more reliable over the years in terms of accuracy (much of it thanks to you I’m sure), or should students just use it as a starting point for research?

p.s. go Tribe!

SerAmantiodiNicolao26 karma

First off, important question: are you a Griffin, or do you remember Col. Ebirt? :-)

While I would say that Wikipedia has gotten more reliable over the years, I'd be wary of using it as a sole source. When I was in high school, my teachers always taught us the importance of broad sourcing, and I see no reason to disagree with that in an academic context. Wikipedia's fine as a source, but it's not fine as the ONLY source - I would always look for whatever other sources it can offer.

lpisme19 karma

How did you initially deal with the drama that Wikipedia edits bring and how were you eventually deemed "OK" to edit and/or create new material?

I was so turned off by a legitimate edit, even though it was approved and is still there, that I don't have much desire to try again. How do you deal with that?

SerAmantiodiNicolao14 karma

I'm lucky. I didn't run into much of that when I started. So by the time I saw more of it coming to the fore I was able to weather it better.

malau117 karma

How does it feel to effectively be one of the most powerful people in Earth?

There must be moments of satisfaction to know that your work has been read by hundreds of millions of people, and that you have enriched the knowledge of the same said hundreds of millions?

SerAmantiodiNicolao48 karma

The example I always give is the community councils of Lesotho:


I created a bunch of them one afternoon when I found a batch of population data from the government of Lesotho online. I came back six months later to find that most of the articles had been translated into Ukrainian. Some have been translated into other languages as well, now. It's incredible...there is information out there in languages in which it did not previously exist, and all because of something I've done.

Blows my mind whenever I think about it.

thatstevesmith10 karma

Just. Why, I suppose?

SerAmantiodiNicolao37 karma

Why not? Scratches the academic itch, without the Ph.D. I'm one of those people who loves doing research - the more obscure the better.

Ricochet8889 karma

How does it feel to be a badass?

SerAmantiodiNicolao12 karma

No idea. :-) But thanks.

PeppyHams3 karma

What are your political leanings?

SerAmantiodiNicolao7 karma

My own. :-)

Sorry...I don't tend to go into those publicly.

hostetlm3 karma

What are some of your hobbies outside of writing for Wikipedia?

SerAmantiodiNicolao2 karma

My big hobby is music - I sing in a choir that meets one night a week. And I do try to go out from time to time - to the opera, to concerts. Not as often as I should, but I'm working on changing that.

TN502 karma

What did you think when you saw that girls tweet about your looks go viral?

SerAmantiodiNicolao11 karma

Like I said elsewhere...I try not to let it get to me. I long ago resigned myself to the fact that I'm not going to be universally loved.


As a beauty I'm not a great star,
There are others more handsome by far,
But my face I don't mind it,
Because I'm behind it—
'Tis the folks in the front that I jar.

- Anthony Euwer (not, as is commonly supposed, Woodrow Wilson)