When you think Wikipedia, you think encyclopedia. And when you think
encyclopedia, you think education, self enrichment and all kinds of
A trip to Wikipedia’s home page initially confirms those impressions. It points you to rather edifying content: an introduction to the Pashtun people, an entry on the Australian pelican, a look at the Vikings’ historical exploits, etc. So far, so good. All very commendable.
Now here’s the slight rub. Wikicharts
purports to list the 100 most viewed pages on Wikipedia’s English
language site, and very quickly the numbers suggest that netizens
aren’t always making scholarly use of the web’s free encyclopedia.
Here’s how some of the numbers break down: In March 2007, 12 of the
100 most viewed pages on Wikipedia (including 4 of the top 20) deal with sex, some of
which goes beyond explaining the simple birds and bees. (Consult the list for more on that.) Meanwhile
another 30+ entries delve into pop culture — South Park, Britney
Spears, Anna Nicole Smith, you get the point.
So, how many touch on more squarely educational topics? About 35.
And many of those include straightforward entries on countries (France,
India, Canada, etc.), or pieces that elucidate the new blockbuster
film, The 300. And while it’s good to see people using Wikipedia to understand the film, we all know that these more obscure historical entries will fall off the top 100 list as quickly as movies come and go. That doesn’t leave too many entries that
are reminiscent of an encyclopedia. In the top 100, you get a handful of classic topics — entries on Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Global
Warming — but that is about it.
All of this suggests that there’s something of a disconnect between
how we perceive Wikipedia (or how Wikipedia portrays itself) and how it
often gets used. Does this undermine the value of the more substantive
pieces that you can find on the encyclopedic site? Certainly not.
Wikipedia can be a great resource when it is at its best. But it does
suggest that Wikipedia’s enriching content is not its most popular, and
conversely that Wikipedia’s highest traffic is flowing to content that
probably won’t be showing up on Wikipedia’s homepage any time soon.