Wikipedia is dead, long live the ‘pedia

I was a bit surprised when looking at the Wikipedia pageviews for 2013 (nicely presented here). After 5 years of consistent and reasonably stable growth, over 2013 monthly pageviews actually dropped, and to the tune of 2 *billion* views  (10%) from their peak early in the year.

pviewsThis was surprising to me. The problem Wikipedia has attracting new editors has been well-publicised, but it’s never had trouble with PageRank or increasing its reach to casual viewers.

Well, it turns out one area seeing consistent and healthy growth is, as you would guess, mobile views, which are showing gains of about 150k pageviews a month on English Wikipedia. This makes up for almost half a billion of those lost over 2013 in the graph above, but still leaves some explaining to do.


Interestingly, another useful metric of web traffic, unique visitors per month, continues to grow considerably. Maybe this reflects how mobile visitors use the site differently, just looking something up (e.g. to settle an argument) and closing their browser as opposed to a few hours going from topic to topic and ending up admiring a list of Eiffel tower replicates.


A quick graph of mean monthly pageviews per visitor gives this theory some support, but the data seems pretty noisy and has varied a lot over the past few years.

Another possibility is that this data is telling us what we already know: the unique visitors with the highest total page views must be the article writers and the Wikignomes that built the place — and they’ve been in precipitous decline for nearly 6 years now. I’m speculating of course, but maybe that’s starting to show through on the page views site-wide, emphasising how much work a small group of people have been putting in, and the dent they’re leaving in Wikipedia as they leave.

Have I missed something, do you have a better idea of why pageviews fell over 2013? Let me know!

Full R code to reproduce the graphs shown in this post is here:



Filed under Wikipedia

4 responses to “Wikipedia is dead, long live the ‘pedia

  1. Okay, no useful hypotheses my side, because it’s kinda late where I am and I’ve had a few too many to brain good…but a couple simple possibilities spring to mind:
    (1) The drop in views seems to be a fairly regular occurrence. Have you mapped it against schooling schedules? (School/college break would likely mean fewer visits, I’d think.)
    (2) Sure, this is a much more drastic drop in views than any of the previous times…but there have been drops before, and just because this time there’s no rise (yet, and there is the beginnings of one anyway), that’s no reason to think it needs a real explanation in such a noisy dataset. Check it again 6 months on (like in a month or two from now, I guess) and the recovery might be well under way. If you cut your graph (and data) at the end of 2010 or in mid-2011, you’d also have a fall to explain, after all.

    That could hold for the drop in views/visitor, too. Or it could just be that as Wikipedia’s “newness” factor drops, people start using it for information more than recreation. Or that with the proliferation of other ways to spend time online (social network after social network, for example), people start spending slightly less time on each activity they encounter.

    Okay, those are all pretty stupid ideas, and easily disposed of, I know. Hardly worthy of being called hypotheses…but I did warn you, right? 🙂

    Anyhoo, thanks for the fascinating post – not often you come across someone who’s good enough with data and words to get a point across so effectively. Good stuff.

    • These are interesting ideas — I hadn’t noticed the seasonal trends but you’re right there does seem to be something there. Maybe this could be teased out via autocorrelation.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  2. What about the Google Knowledge Graph – where Google is pulling Wiki information into the sidebar of search results pages? It must reduce the click through to the article pages, when there is a quick-reference bit of information right on the search page.


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