Back in December I got a note from a reader named Kevin Wos, who said he enjoyed an unusual status in the uni-verse. “I’m one of the guys who draw the college football uniform images on Wikipedia,” he wrote. He also noted that his Wikipedia template had been used by several of the tweakers featured in Phil’s weekend posts, and that he was happy to see other people using it.
I was intrigued by Kevin’s role in the giant hive mind of Wikipedia, so I arranged to interview him. That was during the week in between Christmas and New Year’s — as is so often the case, it took me a while to get around to transcribing the audio. Here, after a lengthy delay (and a fair amount of editing, because we went off on some tangents), is a look at how our conversation went down.
Uni Watch: How old are you, and where do you live?
Kevin Wos: I’m 20 years old, and I’m a senior at the University of Arizona.
UW: What do you study?
KW: I’m a political science major.
UW: Oh — so was I, back in the day. So you’re not majoring in design or graphic arts or anything like that. How’d you get involved with uniforms?
KW: Drawing uniforms and stuff like that has always been my hobby, and Microsoft Paint makes it really easy to do.
UW: And how did you get involved in Wikipedia?
KW: I’m a huge Arizona sports fan, and about a year and a half ago I noticed that the Wikipedia pages for some college teams have uniform images. There’s this other Wikipedia guy out there, who goes by JohnnySeoul, and he had done those images. I think at that point he had done the Big 10, the Big 12, the Big East, and the SEC.
UW: And did you know who this JohnnySeoul guy was?
KW: At first I just noticed that the images were there for certain teams, and then I started communicating with JohnnySeoul…
UW: Wait, how did you locate him or identify him?
KW: The uniform images on Wikipedia, because they involve copyrighted logos of the schools, you have to put certain licensing information on them. There’s a template you have to follow, and there are very strict rules for using the logos — you can’t just put them anywhere. That template always lists who the artist is. So I looked at the images and saw that he was the one who did them.
So I got in touch with him, and we started talking, and I volunteered my services to do some of the other schools. I think the first two conferences I did were the Pac-10 and the Mountain West.
UW: Oh, I see. I’m on Wikipedia’s Arizona football page, and if I scroll down and click on the uniform renderings, I get taken to a page where you’re listed as the creator of the image. And then if I click on your name, I get to learn all about your Wikipedia work. Interesting — I never knew all that info was available.
KW: Right. And on my page, if you scroll down and click on “WikiProject College Football uniforms,” you’ll get a listing of all the uniforms I’ve done.
UW: So have you taken over for JohnnySeoul?
KW: He’s kind of backed off of the college uniforms, and now he mostly does NFL uniforms. So I guess you could say I’m in charge of the college uniforms now. Also, I’ve taken a lot of the images he drew in his template, which only featured the front of the uniform, and converted them to my template, which shows the back and sides.
UW: Did you need his permission or anything like that?
KW: No, Wikipedia doesn’t work that way. But just as a courtesy, you usually ask someone if you want to get involved with an area that they’re used to working on.
UW: So you’ve sort of taken over for JohnnySeoul, but who did he take over for? Was there someone doing college football uniform renderings on the site before him?
KW: No, I think he was the first.
UW: Let’s say someone else wants to do a college football uniform rendering. Hell, let’s say I want to do it. Let’s say I think I have a better template than yours — can I just go ahead and swap in my image for yours? How does that work?
KW: Again, the ideal situation is that the new artist would contact the person whose work they’re replacing and talk to them about it, and then they’d come to a consensus. That’s what Wikipedia’s all about — consensus-building to create a good article.
UW: Do you handle any other sports besides college football?
KW: Not really. That’s my niche.
UW: You’re basically just doing FBS schools, or what used to be called Division 1A, right?
UW: Any plans to render the uniforms for D2, or D3?
KW: I don’t think so. It gets to be too much — there are so many schools. And as you down to the smaller programs, the resources that I base my images on [i.e., game photos — PL] are much more scarce.
UW: And the images you create, you do all of this in MS Paint?
KW: For the majority of it, yes. But for logos and stuff like that, I use GIMP, which is an image-manipulation program. People sometimes describe it as a free version of Photoshop.
UW: How long does it take you to execute a given image?
KW: Probably about an hour, including the photo research, for one full uniform — helmet, jersey, and pants.
UW: I sometimes hear people complain that the uniform images on Wikipedia are too small, they look to choppy, they’re too low-res — but there’s a reason for that, right?
KW: Yes. Because of the copyrighted logos and trademarks, there are strict limits on how big the images can be, how big the logos can be on the images, how high the resolution can be, and so on.
UW: Let’s say a team comes out with a new uniform — like last night, for example, Air Force used a new uniform combo that they’d never used before. That presumably means you have to spring into action, right?
KW: Not yet.
UW: Really? Why not, man?
KW: Because I haven’t finished their Thunderbird uniform [from earlier in the season].
UW: Oh, so you’re not caught up on Air Force. But are you mentally logging it on your list of things that need to be done.
KW: Oh, sure.
UW: Teams add new uniform designs to their rotation so frequently now. Do you get stressed out trying to keep up with them all?
KW: Not really.
UW: Let’s say it’s a typical college football Saturday, and a team breaks out a new uniform, and there was no advance warning. Is that exciting for you, because you get to document it, or is it a pain in the ass? And by the same token, if a team just wears its usual uniform, do you find that boring or are you relieved?
KW: It’s a little bit of both.
UW: I know about trolls who go in and mess around with Wikipedia text. Has anything like that ever happened with one of your uniform images, where someone came in and intentionally swapped in an incorrect image?
KW: Not maliciously, no. Trolls or vandals usually go after text, not images.
UW: Wikipedia has come a long way in terms of respect and legitimacy in recent years, but many people still don’t take it seriously. Does that bother you?
KW: Not really, no. I’m just working on a hobby. If people have a problem with Wikipedia, it’s no big deal. And if anyone wants to help, I welcome the help — I can’t do it all on my own. So if people want to help out, they can contact me. The can also check out my Wikipedia uniform talk page, where anyone can relay their concerns, questions, and comments about the uniform images. If the commenters aren’t registered Wikipedia users, their comments just show up as anonymous. But being registered generally makes it easier for me to respond to their comments, so I encourage people to register for an account if they’re going to use that page.
My thanks to Kevin for sharing his story, and for giving us all a peek behind the Wikipedia curtain.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Looks like the Wizards’ new logo, with the old Bullets color scheme, may have leaked (with thanks to Peter Wallace). … Aaron Kusch found this old NFL sports bottle at a thrift shop for 99¢. … Does Adidas have a new logo? Jimbo Huening snapped that photo while shopping the other day. … Very unusual hybrid-style facemask being worn by a basketball player at Mingo Valley Christian School in Tulsa (big thanks to Paul Watson). … Who’s that with all the skulls and crossbones? It’s none other than Barry Larkin, as a high school football player at Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati (great find by Matt Lesser). … Interesting situation in the 5th inning of yesterday’s Mets/Tigers spring game, as the top and bottom of the inning were handled by pitchers with radically disparate NOB lengths. … During that same game, the Mets broadcast team mentioned that skipper Terry Collins is wearing No. 10 as a tribute to Jim Leyland — hadn’t heard that before. … New road kit for France’s national soccer team (with thanks to Trey Reynolds). … Media giant Gannett has a new logo, which comes with a 100-page style guide. … Here’s the cool patch worn by the space shuttle crew for last week’s launch. Further info on NASA patches here and here (with thanks to Matt Mitchell). … Ronnie Poore notes that South Carolina baseball is going with matte-finish batting helmets. … Just what the world needs: Shaq has a corporate-sponsored birthday cake (with thanks to Mike Chamernik). … Ryan Perkins found an old football helmet with a seriously bizarre facemask. … Orioles catcher Matt Wieters took a page out of the Twins’ book by wearing a throwback helmet behind the plate last night. “Mauer with power has a new meaning!” says Jack Krabbe. … A California company has come up with a piece of protective headwear to protect pitchers against line drives (Brinke again). … One of the protesters in Libya is wearing a Yankees cap (with thanks to Joe Alvaro). … Kudos to the Reds, who’ve come up with a fairly ingenious Dusty Baker bobblehead that doubles as a toothpick holder (kudos to Alan Feller, too). … Always great to see some of Otis Shepard’s old Cubs program cover designs. A few more of them are on display here.