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The Hand-editor’s Tale

Disclaimer: I am the author of Listeria, and maintainer of ListeriaBot.

In January 2016, User:Emijrp had an idea. Why not use that newfangled Listeria tool, a bot that generates lists based on Wikidata, and puts them on Wikipedia pages, to maintain a List of Women Linguists on English Wikipedia? It seemed that a noble cause had met with (at the time) cutting edge technology to provide useful information for both readers and editors (think: red links) on Wikipedia.

The bot thus began its work, and continued dutifully for almost a year (until January 2, 2017). At that time, a community decision was made to deactivate ListeriaBot edits on the page, but to keep the list it had last generated, for manual curation. No matter what motivated that decision, it is interesting to evaluate the progress of the page in its “manual mode”.

Since the bot was deactivated, 712 days have passed (at the time of writing, 2018-12-17). Edit frequency dropped from one edit every 1-2 days by the bot, to one edit every 18 days on average.

In that time, the number of entries increased from 663 (last bot edit) to 673 (adding one entry every 71 days on average). The query (women, linguists, but no translators) used to generate the Listeria list now yields 1,673 entries. This means the list on English Wikipedia is now exactly 1,000 entries (or 148%) out of date. A similar lag for images and birth/death dates is to be expected.

The manual editors kept the “Misc” section, which was used by ListeriaBot to group entries of unknown or “one-off” (not warranting their own section) nationalities. It appears that few, if any, have been moved into appropriate sections.

It is unknown if manual edits to the list (example), the protection of which was given as a main reason to deactivate the bot, were propagated to the Wikidata item, or to the articles on Wikipedia where such exist (here, es and ca), or if they are destined to wither on the list page.

The list on Wikipedia links to 462 biography pages (likely a slight overestimate) on English Wikipedia. However, there are 555 Wikidata items from the original query that have a sitelink to English Wikipedia. The list on Wikipedia thus fails to link to (at least) 93 women linguists that exist on the same site. One example of a missing entry would be Antonella Sorace, a Fellow of the Royal Society. She is, of course, linked from another, ListeriaBot-maintained page.

Humans are vastly superior to machines in many respects. Curating lists is not necessarily one of them.

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