Annie Rauwerda is a 21-year-old student at the University of Michigan who loves unearthing interesting screenshots from weird, dusty corners of the internet. When Covid-19 started, she had a lot of time on her hands to pursue this interest to the extent of making an Instagram account called @depthsofwikipedia, dedicated to finding the weirdest entries deep in the the internet’s encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
“If the pandemic never happened, I would have probably spent the summer of 2020 doing Biology research in Boston, but since my internship got cancelled, I was swimming in free time. I started the account because I was surprised it didn’t already exist,” says Rauwerda.
Jackson Weimer: What do you love about Wikipedia that made you want to make an Instagram account about its’ coolest/weirdest/strangest entries?
Annie Rauwerda: Wikipedia is this crazy internet utopia that’s somehow escaped the claw of capitalism, and I never want to take it for granted. It’s what the internet was supposed to be— collaborative and constructive and democratic and untouched by ads. It’s so inspiring that there are legions of volunteers that document all human knowledge for you and me to use for free, and I also am so continually excited by the site’s accessibility. Anyone can edit…. There’s this altruistic hacker ethos that’s hard to find elsewhere.
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Weimer: Have you made an edit to a Wikipedia page before? Is that something you would consider doing now?
Rauwerda: I didn’t start editing until after I made the account, and now I’m a huge proponent. It’s a super rewarding and impactful hobby and you can find a great editing community online (Discord, mostly) and in person (there are groups in NYC and DC). I partnered with Wikimedia NYC to host an edit-a-thon in January geared toward beginners. The edits that were made have been viewed nearly 3 million times!
Weimer: What are some of the coolest things you’ve learned since making your account? Have you discovered any new interests or hobbies? Any notable celeb interactions in your comments?
Rauwerda: The account has given me an excuse to surf the information overload, and along the way I’ve picked up about a bazillion fun facts. I also made it to the College Jeopardy live audition this year, and I don’t think I would have made it past the first rounds of auditions had it not been for this Wikipedia habit. The celeb interactions are one of the most exciting parts of running the account. John Mayer is a “huge fan” and author Neil Gaiman once called the account “genius.” My ego rode on that for weeks!
Weimer: Did any particular entry surprise you with how well it did?
Rauwerda: Early on, I didn’t have a good grasp at the content that does well on Instagram. The trick, which I know now, is posts which are short enough to be share-able yet substantial enough to be memorable. And people love punchy, emotional posts involving animals— like the article Alex (parrot).
Weimer: What post led you to your account’s first thousand followers?
Rauwerda: During the first few months of the account, I figured that my target audience was young smart people so I mass followed everyone who was active on the Stanford Class of 2024 Instagram account. What sent me into steady exponential growth was short-lived beef with influencer Caroline Calloway. She posted about the account after I posted a Wikipedia article saying her occupation was “nothing.” I woke up in the morning and my follower count had quadrupled! Now, we’re on friendly terms— so friendly that she gave me a cat!!!
Weimer: Wait, what? Caroline Calloway gave you a cat because of your Wikipedia Instagram page? Elaborate.
Rauwerda: Yeah, she posted on Instagram that her assistant at the time needed a place to stay and I commented that I had a room available. Then, Caroline DMed me one day while I was in line at a boba shop and asked me if I could take one of her cats since she had two and they were not getting along. So, she just dropped off her beautiful Siamese cat at my place one day and now I have it.
Weimer: What do you think Wikipedia can change to stay afloat? Do you think they should hire you for their social team seeing as you have more followers than them?
Rauwerda: Wikipedia is a great place to give money, but nobody should feel a crushing obligation to donate. The whole point of Wikipedia is that it will always be free to everyone who wants it, and they’re not as desperate for funds as their pleading banners might suggest. That said, I give half the proceeds of merch to them and encourage all who are able to pitch in. It’s the best site on the internet! I’m friendly with most of their PR/social employees and whenever they release a new filter or have a big announcement, they ask me to share it. My actual dream would be to get a salary for making Wikipedia TikToks with high production value in the style of Planet Money, but I would probably do anything for Wikipedia.
Weimer: As a current college student, what has this experience taught you about what type of careers you might want to pursue?
Rauwerda: As a person, I’m excessively curious and nearly incapable of thinking more than, like, two months into the future. And the result is that I tend to entertain a lot of interests. I took time off after high school to do Americorps and then I decided that I did, in fact, want to go to college. I went in undecided and chose to study Neuroscience thinking that it would be an interesting challenge. It definitely is, but I’ve since realized that I don’t want to be a Neuroscience researcher, so it would have been nice to have studied something like computer science or communications which is more marketable. But oh well! At least I know the names of a lot of enzymes. Since finding success on the account, working full-time in creative spaces— writing, content creating— feels far more accessible. I’d love to work in media, specifically science communications. I’m also a trained, certified Pilates instructor. I don’t know if this is relevant but most people are surprised when I tell them, so I figured I’d throw it in.
Weimer: What do you think Wikipedia will look like in 10 years?
Rauwerda: In terms of web page layout: exactly the same. In terms of editors: hopefully more diverse, thanks to ongoing editor recruitment projects like WikiProject Women in Red and AfroCrowd. In terms of influence: just as (if not more) crucial.
Weimer: What is the future of @depthofwikipedia?
Rauwerda: I recruited my best friend to help me run @depthsofamazon and we got it to nearly 40k in a few weeks. We’re thinking about other depths to explore! Additionally, we have a podcast on the horizon. After that, who knows. I think a coffee table book of interesting Wikipedia articles would be cool to put together someday, and I’d also love to make super cool merch (beyond just the simple mugs I’m selling at depthsofwikipedia.com). I’m trying to be more active on Tiktok— they just put me an ‘accelerator program’ which is supposed to incentivize me to post more on there.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.