With such a comprehensive collection of articles, there are few topics for which Wikipedia has no information. In response, search engines are increasingly featuring Wikipedia in their search results. This is causing people to surf onto Wikipedia not only for informational purposes, but also entertainment and news. This unique effect allows Wikipedia to be used like the internet's "pulse." By examining Wikipedia's most visited articles, one can see what topics the internet population is interested in.


The visualization displays ten months of visit frequency data for Wikipedia's most popular articles; August 2006 to May 2007. For each month, the top 50 most visited articles are shown. These are sorted in descending order and stacked on top of each other. The height of a cell and the font size of article titles are proportional to the number of visits an article received. Thus, the height of an entire month (a column of cells) represents the total number of average daily visitors to the top 50 articles in that period. A color-coding scheme is applied to every article to denote its behavior in the top 50 list - see key for details. This allows the viewer to quickly see the quantity and distribution of different behaviors. The first and last months have no color coding because their status cannot be determined. If the article exists in adjacent months, a subtle gray line is rendered to connect them. This allows viewers to see the overall motion of articles in the top 50.

The data was downloaded from WikiCharts, a free service run by Leon Weber that provides visit statistics for Wikipedia's most popular pages.

Example Points of Interest

  • Steve Irwin was the most visited article in September 2006, almost certainly caused by a wave of public interest following his death on the 4th of that month. However, he quickly dropped out of the top 50 (note the orange colorization).
  • The March 2007 debut of the quasi-historical film 300 caused millions of web surfers to read up on topics like the Battle of Thermopylae (1st spot), Sparta (5th), and Xerxes 1 of Persia (26th).
  • At least one Pokeman related article placed in the top 50 every month during this period.
  • It appears people searching for pornography are stumbling onto Wikipedia in large numbers, pushing many sex-related articles into the top 50. I have a feeling, however, that people arriving at these pages don't stay and read.
  • Saddam Hussein jumps into the top 50 for a single month following his execution (see January, 2007).
  • The top 10 or so articles are generally the most stable, often lasting in the top 50 for months. However, is it typical for a few boom-and-bust articles to jump into the top 10 each month.
  • Overall, traffic to Wikipedia's top 50 articles appears to increase overtime, a gain of more than a quarter of a million visits (roughly +30%) over a 9 month period. However, it should be noted without more data (at least one full yearly cycle), this trend is inconclusive.
  • Lastly, many people seem to visit the "Wikipedia" and "Wiki" articles. I believe this is occurring because people are searching for these terms (rather than entering the URL) and being directed to Wikipedia pages about the terms.

Other Notes

  • Wikipedia's main page was excluded from the visualization as it is not really an article.
  • Only data from the english language version of Wikipedia was used.
  • I am using data from a Wikipedia-related, but independent project - WikiCharts. Thus, I cannot make any guarantees about data accuracy.
  • If you plan on printing a copy for personal use, feel free. However, I would appreciate an email. Any commercial use requires explicit permission.
© Chris Harrison