The Wiki wizard

Meet the man behind Stephens City’s award-winning Wikipedia page

By Ryan Cornell

Behind every town is its citizens.

Behind every town’s Wikipedia page is a devoted editor(s), continually crafting the page and adding changes to reflect its growth and history.

Wikipedia.org is an online encyclopedia, popular due to the fact that anyone can edit it anonymously.

For a town with fewer than 2,000 residents, Stephens City boasts a Wikipedia page that could instill envy in larger cities. After being recognized as a featured article in 2010, appearing on the front page of Wikipedia, it’s remained one of the best sourced and updated pages in the region.

So it may come as a surprise that it’s nearly all the work of one man: Dayton Tybois (pronounced “Tobias”) Uphold.

Originally from Norfolk, Uphold, 33, has lived in Stephens City for 22 years.

His meticulous nature when it comes to the articles he curates — mostly the town of Stephens City and radio stations such as WINC-AM, another featured article — can be traced back to a form of autism he has called Asperger Syndrome.

“And everybody who has autism or Asperger’s,” Uphold said, “knows a lot about one subject, and mine is radio stations.”

In 2007, Uphold got his first taste as a registered editor, adding to the pages of local radio stations. His first edit was to a page on WTOP-FM about the station selling naming rights to Ledo Pizza.

Over a two-year span from 2009 to 2010, an era he calls “the big editing push,” Uphold worked tirelessly to perfect and polish Stephens City’s page.

Uphold isn’t paid for his words and photos, and his identity is hidden under the username, Neutralhomer. He said his incentive is seeing the attention brought to the town.

“The reward I had was on Sept. 5, 2010,” he said. “Stephens City was featured on the front page of English Wikipedia as ‘Today’s Featured Article.’

“That was my reward, that my work was there for everybody to see. I was like, ‘OK, I’m finally done. I’ll update it once in a while, but the big work was done and everybody could see it.'”

According to Wikipedia, only about one out of every 1,050 articles, or 0.1 percent, is promoted to featured article status. As such, it’s hardly a simple feat to accomplish.

Before being approved, it needs to be reviewed by a panel of other Wikipedia editors. And that’s how Uphold met Wehwalt, the username for editor Gary Greenbaum.

Greenbaum, 51, a lawyer from Fairfax, is credited with 116 featured articles, the most of any user on Wikipedia. He taught Uphold how to cut down the mammoth size of the article on Stephens City, which was more than 40,000 words long, and leave the “best bite-sized bits of information.”

Greenbaum, who specializes in articles about U.S. history and coins, said he gave the page an “outsider’s view.”

“Nobody’s ever the best editor of their own work,” he said. “You’re always too much in love of your own writing to see what needs to be done.”

He recalled the first time he was asked to look over the article.

“There wasn’t much there,” he said. “You can go back and look at the old history, and he pretty much did it all from scratch.”

Another editor tasked with bringing an additional set of eyes, Jon Ridinger, 32, also recalled seeing it before it was polished.

He said he told Uphold to pare down the history section, which “completely dominated the article,” and stressed that it shouldn’t be too much like a tourism brochure.

“A lot of articles will want to make the town look good,” he said, “but they’re not necessary or they’re too promotional.”

Like Uphold, Ridinger, a substitute teacher in Kent, Ohio, turned his town’s page into a featured article, not too long after Stephens City was featured.

He said editing these pages has helped him learn how to write better and evaluate sources, which have proved useful as he went through graduate school.

Uphold agreed, and said working on the page has taught him how to write more concisely and accurately.

“Now, other people ask me for writing advice, which is kind of neat,” he said. “That’s new for me.”

The countless hours he’s spent typing at his computer have led to carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, but he’s constantly updating the pages with more references and information.

He said it’s been fun learning about the lesser known tidbits of local history while researching, such as the fact that the town was almost named Pantops by the local post office, or that it was nearly burned down during the Civil War.

“Doing this whole Wikipedia thing has kind of made me appreciate history a little bit more,” he said. “It’s very cool information and if it’s not out there, it just gets lost.”

Uphold shrugged off the notion that he could be considered an expert on the town.

“The guy at the Newtown History Center, he’s an expert, he wrote a book,” Uphold said. “When you can write a book, you’re an expert. One day I’d like to, but I’d say I’m ‘sort of’ an expert.”

Although Uphold has pretty much singlehandedly built the Stephens City article from nothing, he welcomes anyone to add any changes.

“There’s a rule in Wikipedia,” he said. “You don’t own a page; anyone can edit it.”

Check out the page at http://www.goo.gl/bN9ZEE

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com