Pulsifer has authored somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 Wikipedia articles and edited roughly 92,000 others. "I've actually fallen to No. 2 in terms of edits," says Pulsifer, who's tall and a little overweight. "But it's a fairly meaningless measure, so I don't feel too bad." He first heard about Wikipedia in 2001, but it wasn't until 2003 that he got serious about contributing. That was the year he got a really, really boring summer job. At that point Pulsifer got "superinvolved" with Wikipedia.
Why would somebody donate so much of his time? "There's a certain addictive element," he says. Pulsifer was still in school, and writing Wikipedia entries turned out to be a handy way of studying for exams. While taking a Russian-history class, he wrote entries about the czars. He has chipped in pieces on African history and biblical studies. Some he wrote "off the top of my head." Others took research. "It's a combination of things," Pulsifer says matter-of-factly. "It's great to see your writing published onlineit's not that easy to create things that are read by millions of people." He also liked the prestige that came with being a major player on Wikipedia. Granted, that prestige was mostly among other major Wikipedia players, but still.
Wikipedia isn't a paradise of user-generated content. It has plenty of errors in it, and omissions, although at this point it's considerably larger than the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Some people enjoy vandalizing iterasing or falsifying entries. Earlier this year the entire staff of Congress was barred from Wikipedia for sabotaging one another's profiles. In a way it's as much a litmus test of human nature as it is a reference tool.
As for Pulsifer, he's quietly scaling back his compulsive Wikipediation. He no longer whizzes through 250 edits a day. "To a degree, I'm moving on," he says. He has had a couple of job offers; perhaps a well-paying gig will come along that will allow him to leave his parents' home, where he resides. No doubt a new Wikipedian will arrive to take his place. There are plenty of boring summer jobs out there.
Reported by Jeremy Caplan and Kathleen Kingsbury/New York, Susan Jakes/Beijing, Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles, Grant Rosenberg/Paris and Bryan Walsh/Seoul