On Saturday Wikipedia celebrated its 10th anniversary, growing from an obscure hardly known website where a few nerds wrote about their favorite topics to an outstanding encyclopaedia larger than all the printed ones, and albeit varying quality a website many would terribly miss if it would disappear. When I discovered Wikipedia it was already 2 years old, but still had many areas totally uncovered with articles. And this was how a physicist and software developer became a specialist on territorial administration in far away country.
So when I was starting with Wikipedia, one of the earliest articles I created was the one on my hometown and the district in which it is located. This made me (virtually) meet another editor who systematically started all the districts of Germany, and I joined in doing all those in the Bundesland I live, but finally I did maybe half of the 313 districts of Germany. Being freshly married with a Thai woman, I did the same for her home province Surat Thani, and with the experiences from the German districts I later began to create articles on all Thai provinces as well.
As I knew hardly anything on Thailand at that time, and even less on the administrative system, I had to do a lot of researching to make these articles of an acceptable quality, and also fell into traps like misunderstanding the Mueang districts to be the same as the capital towns. To assist in the collection of the data, I made the first versions of the spreadsheet which has grown a lot since then. Those few English source available on the internet at that time were sometimes rather confusing, but several mentioned the Monthon as a past structure. But as I could not make much sense out of those sources, I finally ordered the Tej Bunnags book "The provincial administration of Siam, 1892-1915" in library which gave me lots of new information, and also made me more interested into the topic.
The next step deeper into the topic began when with the help of a Thai editor the project of having articles on every district in Thailand came into full action - while he translated the content from amphoe.com, I added the population data and the table of subdistricts. After doing them manually for some days I realized that as a programmer I could much easier do a small software to grab the data from the DOPA website and make it into the table ready to insert into the Wikipedia article. At district level the local administrative units TAO and municipality come into focus, a new topic I had not known much about before.
Finally in 2007, I only learned about several changes in the administration late - there was a new minor district in Khon Kaen I didn't know about yet, there was the upgrade of all minor districts to full districts, and also two municipalities in Hat Yai district which had changed status. About all three I only learned more by coincidence. Then I discovered the Royal Gazette online archive, maybe the best source of data I have so far. And shortly thereafter I began with blogging to share my findings.
So Wikipedia not only helped me to learn a lot while researching for writing articles on topics which I was originally interested, it is also to blame for getting me so deep into this obscure topic - but of course I don't regret.