Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

The Most Popular Pages on Wikipedia in 2012: Facebook, One Direction and … Cul De Sacs?

We don’t publish many year-end lists, as corporate blogs are perfectly good at doing it themselves. Plus, lots of companies seem to rely more on random editorial judgment than actual numbers to declare what was popular.

800px-Cul-de-sac80020_copyBut here’s one that’s quirky and interesting, and based on unedited data: The most-viewed articles on Wikipedia in 2012.

Wikipedia itself doesn’t actually make its own popularity stats public anymore, but outside researchers can analyze its log files, and Swedish software engineer Johan Gunnarsson has now published a full year’s wrap-up for the first time.

What was the top page on Wikipedia in 2012? In the English language, it was Facebook, with 32.6 million views. In a similar vein, “wiki” was No. 2 and Google No. 9.

As for more novel and timely topics for English-reading users, the big hits were the boy band One Direction, the movie “The Avengers,” and the mommy-porn phenomenon “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Plus, some frequently updated aggregate pages about what happened during the year.

Page name View count
1. Facebook 32 647 942
2. Wiki 29 613 759
3. Deaths in 2012 25 418 587
4. One Direction 22 351 637
5. The Avengers (2012 film) 22 268 644
6. Fifty Shades of Grey 21 779 423
7. 2012 phenomenon 20 619 920
8. The Dark Knight Rises 18 882 885
9. Google 18 508 719
10. The Hunger Games 18 431 626

It’s a bit of a headscratcher why a page about Facebook was so popular — far and away the biggest article of the year. Sure, Facebook itself is much used and much discussed. But this isn’t even a very good Wikipedia entry, as far as they go — it talks about competition with MySpace in the present tense, and cites two-year-old traffic stats.

Both Gunnarsson — who is not affiliated with the Wikimedia Foundation — and Wikimedia spokesman Jay Walsh said there are two probable explanations for Facebook’s popularity on Wikipedia, along with articles for Google, YouTube, Microsoft, Yahoo and other top Web properties.

First, that users are typing Facebook into an integrated search engine in their browsers intending to go to the site and end up on Wikipedia (which could be a self-reinforcing habit based on search history). And second, as Walsh put it, “It’s quite possible that these numbers confirm general, high-level interest and curiosity about top Web properties — their history, policies, background, etc.”

Though the English Wikipedia is by far the biggest, Gunnarsson also tracked year-end stats for other languages.

The most-visited page in Japanese is a list of adult movie actresses, the top German article is about cul de sac streets (called sackgasse in German), the top Italian article is about the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy,” and the top Chinese article is about Baidu (okay, that makes a little more sense).

One particularly oddball popular find, Gunnarsson pointed out, is that the Dutch Wikipedia’s top page of the year was about Hua Shan, a mountain in China. He parsed the stats and saw that the page had fewer than 10 page views per day, except for two weeks in July and August with 1 million page views per day. So either there was a big pop culture phenomenon that died down as quickly as it arrived (unlikely but possible), or there were a bunch of bots hitting the page.

Just in case you were wondering, Hua Shan is a mountain in the Qinling range that’s sacred to Taoism and is said to have one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the world.


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