Life of an article (Celilo Falls)

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Celilo Falls was a tribal fishing area on the Columbia River, just east of the Cascade Mountains, on what is today the border between the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington. Celilo was the oldest continuously inhabited community on the North American continent until 1957, when the falls and nearby settlements were submerged by the construction of The Dalles Dam. Here is a snapshot of the current revision of the Celilo Falls article on the English Wikipedia.

This is a case study exploring how a Wikipedia article evolves, from initial creation to formal recognition as one of Wikipedia's "Good Articles."

We explore the article Celilo Falls on the English Wikipedia. Every article has its own story; the Celilo Falls article is not necessarily typical. Please see Life of an Article for examples based on other articles, and feel free to create a page for another article if you'd like.

Included here are milestones in the Celilo Falls article's development over a period of several years.

The article was begun by an anonymous contributor about whom little is known; he or she was essentially the only contributor for the first month or so. In time, a wide variety of contributors added to the article, sometimes in tiny, incremental pieces, and other times in flurries of significant expansion. They sought and received feedback at several points and engaged in several discussions with one another about how to approach the article's development.

In June 2008, an internal review process identified the article as one of about 7,500 "good articles" on the site. (More detail about this below.) This was a significant achievement, but it did not halt further improvement of the article; there continue to be small improvements, and in one case, the results of a new study were added, along with a significant visual aid.

Some day, a Wikipedian may decide to pursue "featured" status, the highest quality designation available on Wikipedia, for the Celilo Falls article. This could be someone who has already worked on the article, or somebody new with some energy to put into it. In either case, such an effort will build on the foundation established in the article's first few years.

Creation: a new article is born (February 2005)


A Wikipedia contributor uploads a few paragraphs on a topic. In this case, the editor is anonymous; all we know is his/her Internet address. We can also see that this editor worked almost exclusively on content about this region of Oregon (with a single edit to the article on singer Roy Orbison being the exception).

Beginning of incremental improvement (March 2005)


Over a period of about a month, the original author makes about 25 additional edits, adds incrementally to the article.

During this time, two other contributors participate in small ways:

Experimentation with collaborative editing software (April 2005)


YngwieStrat70 registers a user account, and writes "This is awesome" in the Celilo Falls article. We don't know whether this is a comment on the specific article, on Wikipedia as a whole, or on the fact that he can edit it.

He/she then immediately reverts his/her own change.

Then, another editor vandalizes the article; YngwieStrat70 reverts that vandalism, as well.

Maintainance: "wikifying" (September 2005)


Scott Mainwaring made a series of edits "wikifying" the article. These edits are generally not substantive; rather, they add links to existing Wikipedia articles, adjust formatting to meet the style guidelines, etc.

Protecting article integrity (September 2006)

mention might be made of a famous literary character "Chief Broom" from the novel One Flew Over the CUckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey who was a member of a tribe displaced by the dam.
—anonymous contributor

An anonymous contributor made a suggestion for article expansion, but the suggestion was included in the article itself (as opposed to the "discussion" or "talk" page, which would be a more appropriate place for a suggestion).

In this edit, Scott Mainwaring reverts the suggestion. Using the edit summary feature, Scott suggests using the article's talk page instead.

Added to WikiProject (September 2006)

A snapshot of a relevant WikiProject's quality assessment scale. see here for a more detailed view.

Scott "tags" the article on its talk page, identifying it as being of interest to WikiProject Oregon. This is the creation of the talk page.

Aboutmovies, a member of WikiProject Oregon, soon assesses the article's quality and importance to the Oregon project. At this stage, he identifies it as "Start" class on the quality scale (which generally ranges Stub-Start-C-B-Good Article-Featured Article), and "Mid"-importance to the Oregon project.

Editorial discussion on talk page begins (December 2007)

The most readers the article had in December 2007 was 44. See the statistics yourself:

Pete adds links to some references for article expansion on the article's discussion page.

An anonymous editor (reader?) notes a lack of cultural context, using rather provocative language.

Two weeks later, Northwesterner1 responds to the anonymous reader, expressing agreement.

After the "talk page" has begun, it gains its own momentum: edits from this point forward are more and more accompanied by discussion.

Substantial article improvement process begins (January 2008)

In January 2008, User:Northwesterner1 adds a video to the article

Northwesterner1 makes some substantial changes: combining and separating sections of text, adding visual aids, adding text, adding citations.


Second quality assessment (February 2008)

Per request this has been reviewed and upgraded to B class. A few notes below should help towards GA:
Should mention U.S. in the lead to provide a global context. Also in the lead I would clarify it was the filling of the reservoir (Lake XXX) after the completion of construction on the dam that submerged the falls, otherwise one might think the dam was built over the falls. I would add some geologic history to provide breadth and context of how the rapids were formed with links to the Columbia River Basalt Group, and there should be a link somewhere to the Columbia River Gorge. The bulleted list should be converted to prose. Treaty quote is unsourced, all quotes need a source at the end of the quote. The last sentence of the article looks more like advertising than encyclopedic content and should be removed. Footnote #7 needs to be expanded to a full citation.

That’s about it for a quick run through. A thorough copy edit is always a good idea before GA nomination. Great job improving a key cultural place in the NW’s history.

—Aboutmovies (talk) 4:14 pm, 16 February 2008, Saturday (1 year, 10 months, 2 days ago) (UTC−8)

Aboutmovies, a member of WikiProject Oregon, responds to a request for a quality reassessment, identifying the article as "B class." He volunteers some suggestions for what it will take to bring the article up to "good article" status.

Good article process (June 2008)

What is a good article?

A good article is—

  1. Well-written:
  2. Factually accurate and verifiable:
  3. Broad in its coverage:
  4. Neutral: it represents viewpoints fairly and without bias.
  5. Stable: it does not change significantly from day-to-day because of an ongoing edit war or content dispute.
  6. Illustrated, if possible, by images:
link to full GA criteria

A "good article," in English language Wikipedia jargon, is a formal designation.

It is attained by first being nominated (typically by the primary article writer), and reviewed by an independent Wikipedian. This is an editor who has not been involved in developing the article compares it against the good article criteria; if the article is deemed to meet the criteria, it is given the "GA" designation.

Typically, there is a back-and-forth process where the reviewer offers feedback, and the nominator adjusts the article accordingly.

In the Celilo Falls article:

Other formal processes (which were not used in the case of the Celilo Falls article) are peer review, which is not tied to any formal designation, and Featured article, the "highest" rating of any Wikipedia article; Featured Article differs from Good Article in that the standards are slightly higher, and in that a number of Wikipedians will evaluate the article (as opposed to a single reviewer for Good Article).

A new development (November 2008)

Joe Rojas-Burke, "Sonar shows Celilo Falls are intact", in: The Oregonian (November 28, 2008).

Axcordion, in his/her only edit ever to the article, adds a high-quality, informative image discovered through a new news report about the falls.

Further incremental improvements (June 2008–present)

maximum of 114 views/day in Dec. 2009

Numerous interested editors make small improvements to the article; additional "further reading" items are added, style and formatting is improved, link to new article List of waterfalls by flow rate is added.

In March 2009, Skookum1 adds a tag for the "WikiProject Indigenous Peoples of North America", indicating that project also takes an interest in the article.


The software Wikipedia uses allows anyone to browse the history of any contributor's contributions, the history of any article, and more. See here for an explanation of the features.

How was the story of evolution of the Celilo Falls article created?

Wikipedia has a rich set of features that allow anyone to explore an article's history, the contributions of a specific editor, etc.

  • article history
  • edit summaries
  • WikiProject pages, and assessment tags
  • talk/discussion pages
  • nav boxes

See also