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Wikipedia Signpost Report Peers Into the Pop Culture Trends that Drive Big Traffic

By Wesley Fenlon

TV still has the power to drive huge Internet traffic, and Wikipedia is analyzing its most popular pages to create a better Wiki.

Justin Bieber. Facebook. The United States. How I Met Your Mother. What do these things have in common? They're among the most popular Wikipedia articles of 2010 - 2012, driving millions of pageviews to the the sixth most popular site on the Internet. Just in the past few days, between January 27 and February 2, Facebook alone got 609,629 views. Why? "We speculate this is due in part to people accidentally typing these site names/URLs into a Wikipedia search box (either in the Mediawiki interface or a web browser) when intending to actually visit the sites themselves," writes Wikipedia. Oops?

The accidental popularity of the Facebook, Youtube and Google wiki pages (numbers 2, 4, and 5, respectively) is just one interesting tidbit in Wikipedia's recently published Signpost report. The report details Wikipedia's most popular pages and uses traffic analysis and other data to talk about larger trends in web traffic. It's an interesting cross-section of what people actually use Wikipedia for and how it reflects the culture at large.

For example, Justin Bieber's page was the sixth most popular Wikipedia article between 2010 and 2012, accurately reflecting him as one of the most powerful figure in contemporary pop culture. "Page view statistics permit us to consider that Justin Bieber and One Direction—as maligned as they may be critically—are more popular and likely influential on culture, than say, Kendrick Lamar, chosen by Pitchfork Media as releasing the best album of 2012," the report says.

Bieber's stayed popular for the past three years, keeping himself near the top of that list. Several of the other top pages--Glee, How I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory--stay on the list thanks to a strong TV presense. But some of the most interesting insight comes from hourly hits rather than yearly traffic. "The best way to reach the highest levels of Wikipedia popularity are to be a celebrity who (a) dies, or (b) plays the Super Bowl halftime show," the report says. "This year's Super Bowl entertainment, Beyoncé Knowles, just missed the chart with 100-110 views/second."

When Whitney Houston died, her page drew 425 views per second. Amy Winehouse and Steve Jobs likewise drew hundreds of views a second. Jodie Foster's Golden Globe speech drew 125 viewers to Wikipedia per second, which is a cool example of how universally viewed programming can influence public discussion and interest across multiple mediums.

Sites like Reddit and Slashdot also drive huge traffic, but a bit more surprisingly, Google Doodle drive huge numbers to Wikipedia, since the wiki usually gets the first search result on Google. "When the 110th birthday of Dennis Gabor was celebrated in this fashion on June 5, 2010, his article peaked at over 55 views per second (this for an article that currently sees only about 140 views per day)," the report says.

As fun as all these statistics are, the Wiki collects them for a simple reason: damage control. By accurately tracking how many people visit certain pages, they can prioritize fixing poor or vandalized articles to minimize the number of viewers who will come across those pages.

While they make Wikipedia better, we get to take a peek into what the public really loves. And judging by last week's numbers, man is How I Met Your Mother popular. It grabbed two spots in the top 25.