Open main menu
Interview with Ser Amantio di Nicolao, the top contributor to English Wikipedia by edit count: How do you make an average of 3,600 edits a week for over a decade? And what do you learn when you've done it?

Ser Amantio di Nicolao has the most edits of any Wikipedian – over two million live edits. He started editing in 2004 and created his current account in 2006. This interview asks him to reflect on how he started, what kept him going, and what he looks forward to in the future of Wikipedia.

  • How did you come to Wikipedia?

Oh, Lord...been so long I hardly remember. I was in college back when Wikipedia got started, and like a lot of us early adopters I can recall seeing it creeping up the ranks of the Google search results as I was doing research for class. I remember seeing the tagline, "the free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit", and honestly rolling my eyes at it a bit – it all sounded too good to be true. But it kept seeming to get more popular, and somewhere in 2004 I started making a few IP edits. That was back when IPs could create articles, too, and I created one on Peter Francisco that June. (I probably shouldn't admit to this, but he's my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather...I still think he's notable, though. :-) ) I created a couple of others (Francisco's FightFrancis Salvador) and sort of kept popping in and out over the next couple of years, creating a couple of accounts, making a handful of edits, forgetting passwords, etc. Finally, in January 2006 (my last semester of college) I created my current account (as AlbertHerring) and affixed to it a password that I was sure of remembering. I did a few more edits than usual, but with finals, graduation, and the job search I let it slide again. Looking back over my contributions, I find that I was reasonably active until the beginning of 2007, which is when I got my first job. I didn't really begin editing in earnest until late in the year, when they finally installed a computer at my desk and when I started having some downtime between phone calls (I was an office assistant for a tour company.) It was about that time that Dr. Blofeld was beginning his campaign of mass-adding the communes of France; I saw a way that I could do a fairly large level of useful work, and followed suit. Haven't looked back since. :-)

  • What are you proudest of doing on Wikipedia?

Lots of stuff.

I created articles on many of the community councils of Lesotho back in '09 or '10 or so, and came back a few months later to see those translated into Ukrainian. That still, even today, blows my mind, to think that I had a small hand in making that information available in a language in which it didn't yet exist. (Four, actually: looking at one of them now I see it in Bulgarian, Swedish, and Cebuano as well.) I've done a lot of work with WikiProject Women in Red – 604 articles on notable women last year, plus a couple this year. (There will be more, don't worry...)

I've written articles and taken photographs for WikiProject National Register of Historic Places, which I joined fairly early in its life; User:Nyttend and I between us have illustrated a fair chunk of Virginia. Also I worked up the article on Pohick Church from barely more than a stub to what you see today. I also tweaked a lot of the infobox maps on NRHP sites to allow them to show both the state and the country, thereby using a tool that I'm very glad we have.

Lots of stuff, but these are the biggest ones.

  • How has Wikipedia changed in your time here?

I think it's become much less-welcoming to new members; I applaud efforts to change that, but I think we've got a lot of work to do yet. Bureaucracy has become more of a hassle than it used to be. More arcane, too – I think there are vast swaths of behind-the-scenes stuff that confuse even established editors, let alone new ones.

There has been a much more concerted attempt at addressing the variations of systemic bias...we still have a lot of work to do, but I think we've made incredible strides over the past few years.

  • What advice do you have for new editors?

Feel free to make mistakes...I made some beauties in my first years here. (Still do, more often than I'd like to admit.) Take criticism well...don't bristle, even (especially) if it's well-meant. Engage with people who talk to you – if you don't understand something they're saying, then ask. Most of us will be happy to explain.

The learning curve is steeper than I'd like, but I think it can be managed.

  • How do you see your contribution to WP over the next few years?

As Dorothy Sayers said: "As my whimsy takes me." I don't often know from week to week what I'm going to work on next – there are so many things that need doing. I like not limiting myself to one thing, or another.

  • How do you see Wikipedia changing?

I see systemic bias continuing to be's going to take time, especially given our size, but we'll get there. I see us expanding the idea of notability...we're already rewriting the canon of various fields, so to speak, re-inserting people into the narrative who have been long ignored. I'd like to see us growing our editor base, but I'm not sure how feasible that is.

  • Are there any basic changes that you would like to see implemented?

I'm sure I'll catch a lot of heat for this, but I think it's time we start seriously looking at bots to create some of the needed geographic articles. Species articles, too, but geographic especially. Dr. Blofeld has been saying this for a while, and I echo it. I see the downsides to such a plan, but I think there are plenty of upsides as well...most importantly, that it will ensure certain types of basic coverage while freeing up human editors to do more substantive work.

  • How do you feel having administrative capability sets you apart from other editors, if at all?

Well, it gives me blocking rights...which I don't use but sparingly. I like being able to move images over to Commons without having to ask for help. That's actually something else I should have mentioned yesterday under the rubric of "basic changes"...I think the administrator creation process is ridiculously complicated. I understand why it is, but I think things would be a lot smoother around here if we considered giving some of those rights to more editors. Intermediate rights, maybe...not full administrative rights, but a few of the lower-key things, for trusted editors.

  • After two million edits, do you ever get tired, or consider leaving Wikipedia?

Occasionally...rarely. Sometimes I take a little time to back away, but rarely more than a week (unless I'm on vacation). Too much to do. (I've had dreams of editing...I can guarantee I'm not the only long-term editor who's had those.)

  • Do you feel that Wikipedia will ever stop growing, or become obsolete?

I doubt it very much...but then, I don't know what technology will be like in 20 years or more. Put it this way: I suspect it will only get obsolete if/when the internet does.

  • Anything else you’d like to add?

Can't think of anything at the moment – if there's anything else I'll let you know.