Do we want to be chasing popularity?

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Recently the WMF released a piece of end-of-the-year press release “Announcing Wikipedia’s most popular articles of 2023.” I understand that in the world of corporate communications / marketing such pieces are de rigueur, and help newsrooms fill their pages over the Christmas / New Year break with interesting factoids while their reporters are spending time with their families.

Such news pieces are a leading cause of us bouncing new articles at Articles for Creation on en.wiki; press releases aiming to pass as genuine reportage to increase the visibility of their originators in the eyes of the reading public. Worse, this one tells Wikipedians little new about themselves or the projects they’re working on, since everyone knows that the extreme peaks of popularity are driven not by on-wiki factors, but by current events in sport, politics, culture, science, entertainment, etc.

So how can we do better?

We have a tool Massviews, which lets you sort members of an set by popularity. When you sort English-language Featured articles, you get a similar set of articles to those mentioned in the WMF’s press release. Cleopatra, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Taylor Swift each with more than a million monthly hits. These are really high-quality articles and it’s great that we’re able to meet the general public’s information needs with such high-quality content.

If you reverse the rankings, though, you see something else. You see articles which we have spent hundreds and thousands of hours on which appear to be being used little, if at all. Articles on football (Burnley F.C. in European football, 1905–06 New Brompton F.C. season, 2014 U.S. Open Cup final, 1937–38 Gillingham F.C. season and 1921–22 Cardiff City F.C. season); roads articles (New York State Route 319, Clackline Bridge and Maryland Route 36) and military organisational units (Eastern Area Command (RAAF), Nichols’s Missouri Cavalry Regiment and 13th Missouri Cavalry Regiment (Confederate)). The #pageviews for this content is within the margin of error of our filters which separate real people from bots. These make me consider whether we, as a community, consider these as wise investments of many hundreds of volunteer hours.

It should be pointed out these these are not products of the several diversity programs being run by various groups; these highest-quality, the least-read articles are, almost exclusively, articles about straight white men doing things in predominantly English-speaking countries.

WMF’s list, it contains three data points: rank, article name and #pageviews. It contains no glimpse-behind-the-curtain information that could give encourage insights into Wikipedias working or encourage contributions. It’s tempting to answer ‘but we don’t need contributions for the top 25 articles’ but, if you look a little deeper:

  1. ChatGPT, B-class; could use more images
  2. Deaths in 2023, uncategorised; has red links
  3. 2023 Cricket World Cup, only a C-class; zero photos
  4. Indian Premier League, only a C-class; tagged for copy editing.
  5. Oppenheimer (film), only a C-class;
  6. Cricket World Cup, only a C-class;
  7. J. Robert Oppenheimer, featured article
  8. Jawan (film), B-class
  9. 2023 Indian Premier League, C-class
  10. Pathaan (film), B-class

In short only one of these top ten should be considered a finished, complete article and 50% are C-class, needing “considerable editing.” We can and should be considering how to use WMF press releases to attract their readers to do that editing, to these pages and others.

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Per BLP policy I’m making no mention of the importance of biographies. Shout out to MusikAnimalKaldari, and Marcel Ruiz Forns, listed as authors of Massviews. Shout out to Nettrom for SuggestBot. Shout out to all the rest of you for being generally excellent people.

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It obviously makes sense to focus our efforts on the pages that get the most readers. But we have some way to go, as Stuart says. Some specifics: There’s a template for talk pages called {{annual readership}} which should show editors the level and pattern of readership for an article over the last year. But this has been broken for some time as graphs are disabled currently and the WMF is taking forever to fix them. See Phabricator for details. Some editors are actively hostile to the idea that readership matters. See In the News, for example, where events and… Read more »