As ED of the Wikimedia Foundation, I get to meet Wikimedians all over the world. It didn’t take me long to see the commonalities among them – after only about six months, I believed –probably mostly wrongly– that I could pick out Wikimedians in airports and coffeeshops. I find the commonalities among Wikimedians fascinating, and also the recurring patterns I see in different Wikimedia communities. One such pattern is the very young editor.
The average Wikipedian is in his or her mid-twenties. Lots are teenagers, particularly editors who function in “wikignome” roles. But every now and I then I run across someone who started editing at an unusually young age – for example, there’s a Korean editor who started at seven, and an Israeli who started at eight.
A few days ago at the Wikipedia Academy in Stockholm, I met another: User:Calandrella , who started editing Wikipedia at the age of 10. He’s now 15. He told me that when he began, the thing he liked most about Wikipedia was that it took him seriously despite his age. He was able to make whatever contributions he was capable of, and they were judged on their merits.
Today, Calandrella’s made more than 10,000 edits. He’s been active on Wikipedia, Commons, Wikinews and Wiktionary, in Swedish, English, German, Norwegian and Spanish. He’s written about Pokemon, Harry Potter, anime, manga, computer games, and lots of other topics.
We know quite a bit about why people edit Wikipedia. They have an altruistic desire to share information with other people, they like learning new things themselves, and they are fussy types who are irritated by errors and feel compelled to fix them. We know that people like Calandrella appreciate that Wikipedia’s a meritocracy.
But I think there’s something else going on for the very young editors. It used to be that unusually smart kids were typically kind of isolated and lonely, until they met others as smart as them, either in university or later. I think that one of the unsung benefits of the internet, and Wikipedia in particular, is that it makes it possible for smart kids to connect with other people who are equally curious, who share their intellectual interests, and take them seriously, in a way that would’ve been completely unavailable to them 10 years earlier. I think that’s really good for them – it opens up the world for them and makes it possible for them to start making an intellectual contribution, much earlier than they would have been able to otherwise.
 Calandrella, Wikipedia tells me, is a genus of lark in the Alaudidae family. Swedish Wikipedians are very very proud of their coverage of birds: they say it’s better than that of the English Wikipedia :-)