2020 through the global lens of Wikipedia

This Friday, Wikipedia turns 20 and I thought I should do something about it! I didn’t want to write about how useful Wikipedia is and how it has revolutionised the way we acquire information, or yet again write about edit wars among Wikipedia editors, or perhaps, how we can use Wikipedia to study collective attention or collective memory, or about the controversial topic of Wikipedia bots.

Considering how crazy 2020 was as a year and perhaps one of the years that many of us will remember to the grave, I thought I could put together a little list of most visited articles in different language editions of Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation every year releases such a list, however, quite surprisingly, the list is limited to the English Wikipedia only. Wikipedia has 313 different language editions and many of us use more than just the English version when we need to. For millions of people, non-english Wikipedia editions are not only the primary source, but perhaps are THE ONLY freely available source of information on many topics.

In the table below, you see the top 10 most visited articles in my -very biased- selection of 8 language editions of Wikipedia. Let’s have a look and then I’ll highlight few observations!

The second column lists the sister articles in the English Wikipedia. The titles are clickable.

  1. Covid-19 and the pandemic are everywhere! Well, almost everywhere. It’s number one in 6 out of 8 languages. The exceptions are Persian and Arabic Wikipedia. It seems that Persian speaking Wikipedia users have found a very good way to keep busy during the long and boring lockdowns!
  2. After Pandemic related articles (including the Spanish flu, another example of long-term collective memory that Wikipedia facilitates), political figures and heads of state appear most frequently, with Elizabeth II in 4 language editions, followed by Joe Biden and Donald Trump each in the top 10 list of 3 languages. However, Kamala Harris beats Biden in English Wikipedia! Yay!
  3. Maradona didn’t make it to the top 10 of the Spanish list, but he did do in Italian! If you don’t know why, probably you know nothing about Maradona.
  4. Kislovodsk is a seemingly normal spa city in Russia. It took me a while to understand why it became so popular in Russian Wikipedia in 2020. Just see how outstanding the daily page views of the Kislovodsk article looks like below (note the logarithmic scale), and I leave it to you to discover this early Easter Egg!

Notes: All the data and the figure above are taken from https://pageviews.toolforge.org/, where you can explore popular articles in other languages as well as a lot of other fascinating statistics. But be careful with the redirects, different titles of the articles, automated web crawlers, etc!

Published by Taha Yasseri

Associate Professor, School of Sociology, University College Dublin