Steven Pruitt, an ordinary man with an ordinary job, has taken it upon himself to maintain and edit a third of the content on the English Wikipedia.
We've all used Wikipedia at one point or another, be it during our time in school, university, or even as working adults. However, did you know that there's a 1 in 3 chance that an English entry on Wikipedia that you've viewed has at one point or another been edited by a single man?
That man is Steven Pruitt, a native of Virginia, USA. In the past 16 years or so, he made over 3 million edits to Wikipedia, and authored over 35,000 original articles. In 2017, he was selected by TIME magazine as one of the top 25 most influential people on the internet, and was featured on the American show CBS This Morning in 2019 for his efforts. He was also profiled this week by Nas Daily, a famous influencer.
He first decided to contribute to Wikipedia around 2004, when he noticed there was little information written about an ancestor of his, Peter Francisco, in mainstream encyclopedias. Francisco played a notable role in the American Revolutionary War in the 1700s.
"My first article was about Peter Francisco, who was my great great great great great great grandfather … and if we had an hour I could probably go into the full story," Pruitt told CBS. "He was a sergeant in arms in the Virginia Senate and there's kidnapping, potential piracy. If you read the story you would not believe any of it happened."
Pruitt says he's been doing this for 16 years, 3 hours a day, and has never received any monetary compensation for it. In a Reddit AMA he held last year, he said that people and organizations often come to him requesting he create quality Wikipedia entries for them, sometimes for money. He rejects most of these requests, he said, and the ones he does accept must offer valuable information that he believes should be available for the internet. Still, he does not accept any monetary compensation for these requests.
Ultimately, Pruitt is a believer in free access to knowledge and information.
"The idea of making it all free fascinates me. My mother grew up in the Soviet Union... So I'm very conscious of what, what it can mean to make knowledge free, to make information free," he told CBS.
"If you make this information free, then the more people that have access to it, can do more with, and it makes for a freer, better and ultimately stronger society," he said in his conversation with Nas Daily.
Pruitt also contributes to the Women in Red WikiProject, which seeks to make more information available about notable women in history.
"The last statistic I saw was that 17.6 percent of the biographical articles on Wikipedia area about women, on the English Wikipedia I should say," Pruitt told CBS last year. "It was under 15 percent a couple of years ago which shows you how much we have been able to move the needle."
Over the years, Wikipedia and other public sources of information have been made possible through the contributions of altruistic individuals like Steven Pruitt, the internet's true unsung heroes.