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StohsKrause

Some women pioneers in computer science like Grace Hopper have lengthy Wikipedia entries. But according to Hilary Stohs-Krause, that's typically not the case.

Screengrab by Erik Lorenzsonn

One of Hilary Stohs-Krause’s favorite figures in the history of computing is Mary Kenneth Keller, a University of Wisconsin-Madison alum who, in 1965, became the first woman in the U.S. to get a doctorate in computer science.

So it disappoints Stohs-Krause that despite Kenneth Keller’s significance, Wikipedia doesn’t have more to say about her.

“I’m looking at her page right now,” said Stohs-Krause, speaking on the phone with the Cap Times on Monday. “There are six small paragraphs about her. There could be so much more information about her and the amazing things she did.”

Stohs-Krause is holding an event to rectify the dearth of information she sees on Wikipedia when it comes to the history of women in computing. A "Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon" focused on women in the world of tech will start Saturday morning at 9 a.m. at Madison Public Library’s central branch, 201 W. Mifflin St.

The concept of a Wikipedia “edit-a-thon” isn’t new. Madison’s ArtWrite Collective hosted a similar event in the spring to add more entries related to women or figures from LGBT history. The idea is for people to gather, learn how to edit Wikipedia, and then spend a few hours adding to or improving relevant entries.

Stohs-Krause said she knows from experience that there’s a lot that could be added or improved about women technologists.

“I gave a conference talk about the history of women in computing. And doing that research was exhausting. It just wasn’t accessible,” she said.

Stohs-Krause has some ideas on why there’s a lack of Wikipedia information on women. For one thing, the website’s editors are male-dominated, an imbalance that’s acute enough for “Gender Bias on Wikipedia” to be its own Wikipedia article. A frequently cited statistic from a 2011 survey is that 90 percent of Wikipedia editors are men.

Stohs-Krause also said notions of “expertise” could also be at play in Wikipedia’s gender dynamics. Some research suggests that men are more likely to consider themselves an expert on any given topic than women.

Stohs-Krause said that ironically, “expertise” has little bearing when it comes to editing a Wikipedia page. That’s more a question of proper research and attribution.

“You don’t have to know a lot about something,” she said. “There’s this misconception, that, ‘Oh, If I want to add something to Wikipedia, I have to know a lot about that topic or this person.’”

A secondary mission for Stohs-Krause is to get Edit-a-thon attendees comfortable with Wikipedia’s editorial interface. She’ll be showing a video tutorial on how to be an editor at the start of Saturday’s event. Research has found that Wikipedia editors with the digital savvy necessary to be a “high-skills” editor are far more likely to be male.

“It’s not a user-friendly format,” she said.

Once attendees acquire some know-how, they’ll get to editing, either on a topic of their choosing, or from a list of suggestions.

Stohs-Krause is organizing the edit-a-thon through Women in Tech, a Meetup group she helps lead in the Madison area. While many of the group’s events are for women specifically, she said that men are welcome to the Edit-a-thon.

She said that the library will supply computers, but that she recommends to anyone interested to bring their own laptop if they have one.

Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.