Days before Hurricane Irene reached the United States, it already had its own place in history. That is to say, its own Wikipedia page.
Before the worst of the hurricane even hit, the user-written encyclopedia’s page on the subject already had more than a thousand edits. Hundreds of users collaborated to post the latest facts and details. Their task is made more difficult because those facts and details are constantly in flux.
With 116 edits, Wikipedia editor Hylian Auree is the page’s most active user. A resident of the Caribbean isle of Curaçao, Auree has edited several Wikipedia pages on tropical cyclones, but none this prolific.
“This is by far the biggest storm article I've worked on,” the 17-year-old meteorology enthusiast told the Daily Dot. “Even though I have written over a third of what the article is now, I've never seen an article grow in size so rapidly before.”
Auree said that tropical storms don’t always get Wikipedia pages dedicated to them before they hit. A Wikipedia editor for one year, he said this is the first storm he’s experienced in real time, as well as the most threatening.
“It is currently one of, if not, the most viewed articles on site, so that's really something,” he said.
Since Hurricane Irene is still happening as the editors make their updates, Auree said, a Wikipedia editor’s toughest job is maintaining accuracy.
“We deal with a lot of rapid information additions--a good amount of it far from accurate--from hundreds of editors, so after a while it gets nearly impossible to process all of it as effectively as we'd like,” he said. “Fortunately in this case, most users have cited their edits with reliable sources.”
It’s critical that editors get the facts right, since tens of thousands are referencing the Wikipedia page to get their hurricane updates. At press time, 96,700 people had visited the page. Compare that to last week’s natural disaster: 85,200 people viewed the Virginia Earthquake 2011 page.
Auree said that the Hurricane Irene page is currently listed as a high-importance topic in the Wikipedia Tropical Cyclones project. That means editors who are online are encouraged to dedicate their efforts to the page. This is not only because of the user traffic the page is attracting, but because of the gravity of the event.
“Right now, Irene fits this category due the huge threat it is posing, as well as the extensive damage it has caused so far and much more that is feared to come,” he said.
Auree predicts that the Hurricane Irene page will continue to be updated rapidly until the storm is over and all the facts are final.
His home in Curaçao, which rarely experiences hurricane activity, wasn’t on Irene’s path.
Other Wikipedia editors might not be so lucky.
Take 12George1, also known as George Cooper, whom Auree only recently displaced as the page's top editor. Cooper, a 16-year-old who lives in Palm Springs, Florida—hurricane country—originally created the page, and has been trading places with Auree as the page's most active contributor.
That’s a benefit of Wikipedia’s anyone-can-edit policy: With hundreds of Wikipedia editors over the world, including the East Coast of the United States, those that lose power can rest assured that there will always be contributors like Auree seeing the editing through.
"One of the greatest qualities Wikipedia has to offer is that it's a widely accessible community, so editors from all over the world can now aid in consistently keeping the article updated,” Auree said.
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