Wiki wonks

Wiki wonks

September 13th, 2010 by Harrison Keely in News

Josiah Roe watches over Chattanooga. He looks after city Mayor Ron Littlefield and keeps an eye on Lookout Mountain, all from the comfort of his home.

Roe, president of Chattanooga-based design firm Medium, monitors the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Since 2004, he's added dozens of entries about local personalities and corporations such as Olan Mills and the Lyndhurst Foundation, using history books to get his facts.

"In another life I'd have loved to be Magellan," he said. "But there's nothing left for us to really explore anymore. Wikipedia brings a sense that you're giving new knowledge to the world."

The number of Wikipedia editors dedicated to developing East Tennessee articles can be counted on one hand, Tennessee Tech student Brian Stansberry said.

"Some people paint, some people collect stamps," Stansberry said. "Wikipedia is just a hobby of mine."

Since 2007, Stansberry has made more than 10,000 edits on hundreds of pages, including the entries for Chattanooga and Cleveland, Tenn.

For instance, Stansberry deleted a list of "notable residents" from Cleveland's page.

"For some reason a lot of people in Cleveland kept adding their names to the list even though they're not notable people," he said.

Despite never visiting Cleveland, Stansberry, of Cookeville, Tenn., has become the most frequent editor of the city's page, mostly cleaning up messes left by inexperienced editors.

Stansberry said he's passionate about the parks and the cities in East Tennessee, which is why he cares so much about helping out.

"It's kind of a responsibility to make sure that the information is accurate and that I do justice to these places," he explained.

Roe helped to establish the Chattanooga Task Force as part of the Tennessee WikiProject in 2007. He developed a to-do list of articles to be written, and, eventually, other users chipped in to create the pages.

Because the site can be edited by anyone, however, entries and contributions are sometimes flagged for deletion.

Jason Trew, of Ringgold, Ga., created an entry for Eastgate Mall that was unexpectedly removed shortly afterward when other users questioned its notability, he said. Since then, the disputes have been resolved and the page has been restored.

"I usually never tell anyone that I edit on Wikipedia," said Trew, who used to work in Chattanooga. "I just like knowing the history of the town."

Trew has been editing pages related to his interests since 2004, working on articles about Volkswagen, raceways, license plates and trains.

Listed as one of the top contributors to Chattanooga's page, Trew added a section about the city's railroad lines and one for the Chattanooga Lookouts.

Stansberry said he frequently searches Library of Congress archives to add historic photographs to Tennessee cities, including Chattanooga. Sometimes he'll add his own shots to pages.

One image he took for the Kingston Fossil Plant ash spill page has been reused on more than 100 websites, he said.

"It's just a way of sharing my photos," he noted.

Roe said Wikipedia seems to reflect Southern culture.

"In a small town, everybody tends to know everybody's business anyway," he said. "There are a lot of interesting stories to be told about people whose Wikipedia articles are yet to be written."

Contact Harrison Keely at 757-6306 or at