Editor’s Note: Annie Rauwerda is a former contributor to Statement Magazine, but currently has no affiliation with The Michigan Daily.
Maybe you’ve been browsing through your timeline on your favorite social media app and come across a post about strange canadian traditionsbreads in the shape of animals or ancient Sumerian jokes – but did you know that the creator of these posts could have appeared in your discussion section?
In April 2020, then-LSA sophomore Annie Rauwerda was in the same place as many Wolverines: stuck at home, bored, and chronically online. On the corner of Ann Street and Glen Avenue, Rauwerda kicked off his “quarantine project” and posted on his new @depthsofwikipedia Instagram account for the first time. Fast forward to now, and that same account has over 800,000 followers spread across Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. Since that first post, the gist of the account has remained the same: Rauwerda crowdsources Wikipedia snippets — whether silly, bizarre, outrageous, or all of the above — and shares them with the world.
Rauwerda’s recursive islands and lakes message includes the phrases “islands in lakes on islands in lakes” and “lakes on islands in lakes on islands”. There’s also Diego the turtle, whose Wikipedia page boasts that “Diego was said to have ‘had so much sex he saved his species’ which is adequately explained by stupidity. I think a lot to that one.
Its success has been reflected in the next dimension: The New York Times calls it an “entry point to internet culture,” Mashable praises Depths of Wikipedia for its bizarre trivia lessons, and Vice describes its importance among Gen Z with fancy words like “post-irony” and “meta-irony”. Rauwerda also sells merchandise (with proceeds going to Wikipedia), hosts a Depths of Wikipedia Discord channel, and interacts regularly with his ever-growing community of music lovers. Wiki.
But we are not here for that. It’s finally time to address a glaring truth: Rauwerda is a neuroscience major at UM, whose fame seems largely unknown among the student body. The Michigan Daily adds to Rauwerda’s long list of interviews to glean a sense of what it’s like to graduate in Ann Arbor while navigating much bigger things. The interview has been edited for clarity and context.
The Michigan Daily: How do you explain Depths of Wikipedia to someone who hasn’t heard of it?
Annie Rauwerda: If I just needed to say something quickly, I’d probably call it a meme page. I don’t think it’s really memes, though – I don’t add text to images. So if people ask for an actual explanation, I say it’s the Wikipedia screenshots that I find funny or interesting. Sometimes I feel like older people just don’t get it – they don’t seem to get the whole concept of a gimmick account.
DMT: You should be getting a lot of direct messages and suggestions on what to post. How do you sort them all?
AR: I’ve been getting a lot of DMs lately. Previously, it was very manageable; I used to post every Wikipedia page someone submitted or give a very thoughtful answer as to why I wasn’t going to. But now I don’t. I make an effort to at least read every message, but sometimes I can’t even do it. When I post a lot of stories and start getting responses, it becomes a lot. It’s so nice because all these people usually send really nice and thoughtful things. I really try to acknowledge them, maybe like the message, but unfortunately, I just don’t have enough time and diligence to send something sincere to everyone. The majority of DMs are probably people who say, “Oh, you should definitely post about this,” and you wouldn’t believe how many repeats there are. At this point, I’ve posted something like 700 different things, and a lot of the things people submit are things I’ve already posted. But other times people send in really cool stuff, and sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh, I gotta save that for later.
DMT: You are very approachable and approachable despite having almost a million followers. I see a lot of accounts with similar popularity, but they don’t have regular communication with their followers like you do. How do you continue with this?
AR: The 800,000 of them have so much to tell me that would enhance the story, and also give me writing ideas. I’ll subtly try to inspire myself and ask questions like “what’s a fun website you’ve seen recently” or something like that. I’m currently a part-time student and getting nine credits, so that helps too. I consider Depths of Wikipedia my social life in some ways. When I go to Instagram Live, I’m just like, “Oh, haha! I’m going to talk to this piece of glass that looks like my friends. I think it’s great fun. Also, people are so nice to me; I know some people on the internet have really toxic experiences, but I think probably only 1 in 10,000 interactions I have are not positive.
DMT: In many of your interviews, you mention editing for Wikipedia. Can you explain how it works? If I wanted to edit for Wikipedia, how would I do it?
AR: Overall, the process is very simple. First, you need to create an account and then tap the little pencil icon on an article. Some pages deal with more controversial issues, like the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 or abortion, which are often vandalized. For these pages, you need to have an account for a while and have made a number of good edits before you are allowed to edit them. I think a lot of new editors will feel unsure of what to edit, because that’s how I felt at first; I fixed one typo at a time and felt like there was nothing else to do.
In reality, however, there are so many pages that are just kind of “meh”. Right now, a lot of obscure pages are just very poorly written or have outdated sources, and there’s a lot of maintenance needed to have such a big encyclopedia. There are so many topics in so many sub-areas that I feel like people with so many diverse interests could find a really good niche if they wanted to. There are plenty of rules, though. I try so hard to follow the rules, but even now sometimes I openly violate something by accident. If you’re unsure about an edit, you can go to the article’s “Talk” page, which is “behind the scenes” where editors talk about what the page should look like, and then ask.
DMT: Have you ever had teachers or classmates tell you about Depths of Wikipedia?
AR: No, I wish! That would be cool. I’ve definitely walked around Ann Arbor and people have come up to me and said, “Hey, do you have a TikTok?” or “Are you Wikipedia Depths?” But it doesn’t happen that often. Sometimes I have professors who have a big Twitter presence, and I’ll follow them from Depths of Wikipedia, and I know if they really looked, they might see, “Oh, that’s my student,” but until at present none of them have.
DMT: Lots of people follow you. Celebrities?
AR: I am not hurt. Kiernan Shipka follows me, and sometimes we chat. John Mayer follows me. It’s a big problem. Olivia Wilde shared a lot with me on her story (Instagram). Troye Sivan is a huge fan; it’s been followed for a very long time, like before I even had 10,000 subscribers. Julia Fox follows me and Grimes follows me on TikTok. I really want to unfollow everyone except (Grimes) and then start making a ton of “friends only” videos, because if it gets a view, then I know it’s her.
DMT: What’s the craziest celebrity dating experience you’ve had?
AR: The “TL;DR” is that I adopted a cat from Caroline Calloway. I was in line to have boba in Brooklyn (where I lived) and got a call on my phone from Calloway. (Calloway) is a famous influencer who got a big scandal in 2018 for being a scammer – she didn’t publish books she promised to publish and held big creativity workshops that didn’t add any value. Plus, she’s started selling a blend of oils called “snake oil,” and it’s apparently her secret skincare routine. This is my really bad crash course. I had her contact on my phone because her assistant was going to live in the extra room in my apartment, and I got a call from Caroline, and she was like, “Hey, my cats don’t get along. In the same intonation she would use on an Instagram story, she’s like, “Do you want a chat?” and it seemed like a standing offer. I agreed to do this for a few months, but eventually told Caroline that I loved her (cat) and wanted her as a permanent pet.
DMT: Weird finds on Wikipedia related to Unified Messaging?
AR: I saw hilarious words. I could oversell that; it is moderately interesting. If you go to George Sugihara’s page – he’s a professor – there’s a part in his Biography section where it says he “studied natural resources at the University of Michigan, where he got a BS in 1973. He did something after graduation.” Just like “doing something” after graduation and not specifying what he did after graduation. I thought that was really funny.
DMT: What’s your favorite local UM meme page?
AR: Definitely (@incellectuals_umich), are you kidding me? It’s easy. I think they are so funny. I feel very much regarded as a resident of Kerrytown, when so much of UMich’s tradition is about sport.
DMT: How have you extended Depths of Wikipedia to other projects, and how is it going?
AR: For a while I had a podcast and I had a newsletter – I’m not doing either of those right now, not for a good reason, just because it’s a lot of work and I didn’t make any money on it. So. I also sell funny message mugs (Wikipedia Depths), but I don’t really promote them. With mugs, I always have to make it clear that I’m not doing this page just to profit from it; I donate a decent share of mug sales to Wikipedia, and the rest just goes to my tuition. I think people sometimes have a bit of resistance, because (they think) it’s the work of volunteers that I print and profit from, which is understandable. My goal is just to spread the love (Wikipedia), and I’m not getting away with billions or anything. Honestly, I feel like it’s just beer money. Maybe I shouldn’t apologize, (but) every time I get some criticism for this I always feel like it’s valid and I feel bad.
Digital Culture Beat’s editor, Laine Brotherton, can be reached at [email protected]