How One Instagram Account Finds the Weirdest Stuff on Wikipedia

"Depths of Wikipedia" creator Annie Rauwerda has mastered the art of finding the online encyclopedia's most farflung corners

January 15, 2021 6:17 am
depths of wikipedia
Mike Falco

Wikipedia turns 20 today. Over those two decades, it has become one of the most beloved places on the internet, and to this day remains one of the medium’s most visionary and overwhelmingly successful projects. It’s got everything the internet was intended to be (the free exchange of information, user moderation, a simple, intuitive interface) without all the nasty stuff it’s become (data mining, privacy invasion, targeted advertising).

And while the site has become a legitimately reputable source for cursory research or fact-checking on, well, anything, its primary use for most visitors is something altogether more trivial. You know what we’re talking about: whether it was a form of procrastination, a way to cope with insomnia or just something to do to alleviate boredom, we’ve all fallen down down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. Maybe you started out reading the plot summary of a horror movie you’re too scared to actually watch and then kept clicking on links and eventually found yourself reading up on the origins of the chicken gun. Perhaps you pulled up the entry on the 25th Amendment this week to brush up on all the potential scenarios being discussed by politicos, got sucked in and wound up perusing the page titled “Dumb Laws.”

Whatever bizarre, obscure or simply entertaining entries you’ve found yourself poring over lately, you know how much of a time-suck it can be to aimlessly browse the online encyclopedia. And so does Depths of Wikipedia, a popular Instagram account launched last spring by University of Michigan undergraduate Annie Rauwerda. The page highlights all the funniest, weirdest Wikipedia entries and posts screenshots of them, saving you the time of searching for them on your own. In less than a year, the account has amassed nearly 100,000 followers, and though it’s a lighthearted endeavor, Rauwerda has also used it to highlight why Wikipedia’s such an important resource, hosting an edit-a-thon earlier this month.

We caught up with Rauwerda to find out more about what inspired her to create the account, how she manages to track down the craziest entries, and more.

InsideHook: What inspired you to create the Depths of Wikipedia account?

Annie Rauwerda: I was making a collage of Wikipedia excerpts for my friend’s zine in late April of 2020, got the idea of posting weird Wikipedia screenshots on Instagram, and was surprised that it hadn’t already been done. The success of accounts posting pictures of amusing text (like @nytcookingcomments and @freemovieideas) made me think it could get big. Initially, my most ambitious goal was 10,000 followers, so it’s cool that it’s approaching 100,000 already!

How do you find all the crazy or funny Wikipedia entries you post on the account? Do you have a process for looking for them, or do you just stumble upon them?

Sometimes I find content in the wild, but the majority of posts are either from DM submissions or Twitter. There’s also the holy grail List of Unusual Articles, which is great if I’m in a rut.

Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do outside of managing the account?

I’m an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan studying Neuroscience. Because my classes are all online, I moved to New York City in August, where I have a part-time job tutoring elementary schoolers. I spend most of my time studying, but I also really like exploring New York by bike, listening to audiobooks, and doing both at the same time. I’m a Pilates instructor, and before the March shutdown, I was teaching a couple of classes a week. I’d love to eventually find a career working at the intersection of science, education and the internet.

How much time do you spend on Wikipedia generally?

I feel like I’m on Wikipedia constantly, though if you totaled up the time, it would probably only average to about an hour a day. Wikipedia lends itself well to weird rabbit holes, obviously, but I also really love that the main page links articles that give context to current events. Since getting more involved as an editor, I’ve enjoyed the interactions I’ve had while working on articles.

Do you have any personal favorite Wikipedia entries?

The one that inspired me to start the account is this photo of a cow captioned “A healthy cow lying on her side is not immobilized; she can rise whenever she chooses.” It really epitomizes my early quarantine mindset.

Another favorite is this perfectly passive-aggressive excerpt from the page “Popemobile.” 

I know you did a “Virtual Edit-a-thon” earlier this month. What can you tell me about that? What made you want to do it, and how did it go?

Yes! I love the way Wikipedia democratizes education and I’m glad I was able to give back. Wikimedia NYC and I have been in contact for a few months and they provided both instruction and volunteers to answer questions. Overall, it was a great success: we had 107 editors, 211 articles edited or created, and 251 references added. Those edits have been viewed over 500,000 times already. It’s still so inspiring to me that everyone has access — as well as an opportunity to contribute — to the vault of human knowledge.

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