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Depths of Wikipedia: Meet the Michigander who scours the web for anything weird and wonderful

annie rauwerda depths of wikipedia with cat pearl
Courtesy
/
Annie Rauwerda
Depths of Wikipedia creator Annie Rauwerda poses with her cat Pearl.

There's a Wikipedia page just for toilet paper folding techniques at hotels.

There's also a Wiki list dedicated to sexually active popes. Another list focuses on future astronomical events.

Annie Rauwerda is well aware. The 22-year-old University of Michigan student spends about an hour each day scouring the web for anything delightful or weird. Then, she shares those findings to her viral page, Depths of Wikipedia.

Rauwerda, a Grand Rapids native, started Depths of Wikipedia in 2020 while she was bored during COVID lockdown. Now, it has more than one million followers across Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.

WKAR’s Sarah Lehr spoke with Rauwerda about her favorite corners of the internet’s largest crowdsourced encyclopedia.

Interview Highlights

On how casual browsers should approach Wikipedia

I think Wikipedia is one of the most incredible things that exists — the way that it self-moderates, the way that it allows for democratic discussion. I think Wikipedia … has like this ethos of the early internet before we had these big giants that were capitalizing off of it and I think it's the best site ever. Obviously, Wikipedia has inaccuracies on it. ... But the best way to engage with it is to read everything with a grain of salt.

On the fan base and sensibility of Depths of Wikipedia

It skews young. I think the humor is kind of subtle, and there's no clear punch line. And it's less about like a ha-ha, knee- slapper joke and more about like a, oh, you kind of breathe heavily out of your nostrils because this thing is kind of interesting and a little bit funny.

Interview Transcript

Kevin Lavery, host: Did you know Wikipedia has a page just for toilet paper folding techniques at hotels? Or that Wikipedia keeps a list of sexually active popes?

Annie Rauwerda knows. The 22-year-old University of Michigan student scours the web for anything delightful or weird and shares those findings to her viral page, Depths of Wikipedia.

Rauwerda, a Grand Rapids native, started Depths of Wikipedia in 2020 while she was bored during COVID lockdown. Now, it has more than one million followers across Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.

WKAR’s Sarah Lehr spoke with Rauwerda about her favorite corners of the internet’s largest crowdsourced encyclopedia.

Sarah Lehr: If you're just meeting someone and they're not extremely online, how would you describe what Depths of Wikipedia is?

Annie Rauwerda: I screenshot things on Wikipedia that I think are interesting or funny or make you slow your scroll just a little bit.

Lehr: Have there been posts from Depths of Wikipedia that really took off in a way that surprised you — you didn't think they would necessarily be so popular?

Rauwerda: One that was popular that I didn't quite expect was, there is this photo of popcorn and they showed two different types of popcorn kernels and one is called a mushroom it's a circle, and the other has little things sticking out of it more wispy and they call it a butterfly. And I've eaten popcorn many times. I have thought a little bit about the different shapes of popcorn. I have never known that there were names. And it started a big debate and Twitter and Instagram (people) were arguing about the merits of the mushroom and the butterfly-shaped popcorn.

Lehr: Do you have any advice for other people for using Wikipedia and vetting what they're looking at? What should they be looking out for?

Rauwerda: I think Wikipedia is one of the most incredible things that exists — the way that it self-moderates, the way that it allows for democratic discussion. I think Wikipedia … has like this ethos of the early internet before we had these big giants that were capitalizing off of it and I think it's the best site ever.

Obviously, Wikipedia has inaccuracies on it. It's the encyclopedia that everyone can edit. So, definitely don't believe every single thing you read on Wikipedia. But the best way to engage with it is to read everything with a grain of salt. If you're not sure about something, check the citation that's on Wikipedia. And if you if you're not quite satisfied with the way something is discussed on Wikipedia, look into editing it and changing it.

Lehr: Are there aspects of Wikipedia that you think could be improved as someone who's very, very familiar with the platform?

Rauwerda: Oh my gosh, yes. Editing Wikipedia is never ending. And sometimes people wonder — they're like, “Okay, well, I mean, Wikipedia has, like, almost 7 million articles in English at least. What else do you need?” But, in reality, like the world is always changing. Every article needs updating.

For example, you know, the population of Battle Creek. I was just looking on Wikipedia and the last citation was from 2019. And I was like “Oh, I gotta quick update this.” Another problem with Wikipedia, I would say, is that it can be very hard to start editing. The Wikipedia editor demographics do not represent the English speakers in the world. Right now, the percentage of Wikipedia editors that are male, it's somewhere in the 80s, in the 80 percents, which is a little bit better than it used to be, but it's certainly still not equal. And so there are projects like Wiki Women in Red that are working to get more female editors.

Lehr: How would you describe the sense of humor that your pages have and do you think there are any generational aspects and who your fans are?

Rauwerda: I do. I have statistics from Instagram of who my followers are and the demographics are pretty interesting. The gender distribution is pretty down the middle and the ages are mostly like 15 to 35. I have a friend and her mom told me, she's like, “Annie, I don't get it, but my daughter loves it.” And I do think that's true. It skews young.

I think the humor is kind of subtle, and there's no clear punch line. And it's less about like a ha-ha, knee- slapper joke and more about like a, oh, you kind of breathe heavily out of your nostrils because this thing is kind of interesting and a little bit funny. One example of is there's this molecule. It's an organic compound and it’s just the way that this molecule looks exactly like a teenage mutant ninja turtle. And so I posted it and I said,” forbidden Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle,” and people thought it was really funny. I would say that the humor is subtle, maybe is the best word.

Lavery: That was WKAR's Sarah Lehr talking with Depths of Wikipedia creator Annie Rauwerda.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sarah Lehr is a politics and civics reporter for WKAR News.
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