The Signpost

Special report

Traffic in the fog: 2014's most popular articles include death, Facebook, and Ebola

Contribute  —  
Share this
By Serendipodous

Since I began this project two years ago, I have often compared it to navigating by lamplight through a dense, opaque fog. All we receive to craft this report is a sequence of raw data, with no indication as to its origin or validity. From it, we must discern the genuine human views from those of spammers, DDOS attackers, botnets, or lunatic pranksters. Initially, we relied on simple hard graft; checking viewing stats, news sites, Reddit threads or Google Doodles, ruling out possibility after possibility, and basing our conclusions on a combination of common sense, intuition, and trial and error. However, over time, our tools increased (in particular with the addition of mobile views), and now searches that used to take hours can be done in minutes. Unfortunately, because these tools came to us only towards the end of the year, they have proven rather useless in compiling the annual report, which has left me with that same feeling of helpless panic that I remember from our earliest days. And it wasn't like 2014 was in a mood to help; indeed it was apparently the year that the Internet decided to gang up on Wikipedia. The year-end pileup of every oddball entry for the last twelve months meant that, for the first time ever, I have had to exclude more entries than I included, which raises some serious questions, not least by myself, as to whether this list could ever be accurate. All I can tell you is to take the conclusions below with a grain of salt, and if you are concerned, check out the raw data for yourself.

This is only my second annual Traffic report, so it's too early to discern longterm trends, but one thing stands out like a panzer in a pizzeria: this year's 25 most viewed articles together comprised 289 million views; last year's total was 350 million. That's a decrease of 18 percent. The natural question is why, and it is an excellent one. It's not like people aren't turning to Wikipedia for information; this year's list contained four articles related to current events (five if you count the centenary of World War I), compared with one last year. And it isn't surprising; I was not the only one left stranded in the fog by 2014. With the tragic and seemingly inexplicable death of Robin Williams, the nebulous and inconclusive war against ISIL, and the overstated alien horror of Ebola, people turned to Wikipedia to make sense of a world that seemed beyond their control. This arguably led to a decrease in the quality of the articles from last year's list: articles on current events remain in a constant state of flux, and seldom settle down long enough to be improved.

That said, in other respects, this list is reassuringly familiar: the same dominance of pop culture (TV, movies, websites, celebrities); the same egocentric interest in one's country of residence (yes, the countries, even those further down the list, are still in order of English-speaking population); the same obsession with death (Deaths in 2014 eclipsed Facebook this year to top the list, while, again, the most viewed celebrity was one who died), and the same sober desire to commemorate past events (this year, the centenary of World War I; last year, the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's delivery of the Gettysburg Address).

One major difference stands out, however: film has a much stronger presence on this list than last year. On noting 2013's relative lack of film entries, I speculated that movies' relatively short lifespans in theatres mean they don't sustain the public interest to the level that television can. That may still be true, for most films, but this year saw films of such mind-bending popularity they essentially became institutions overnight. My only question is why Frozen isn't higher on this list. It debuted in November last year, but toy tie-ins for the movie were still the must-have presents for this Christmas. Who's betting that years from now mothers the world over will still be plugging their ears to their daughters' billionth play of "Let It Go"? As for Guardians of the Galaxy? Well, only a studio as confident as Marvel would have dared to release it to begin with, let alone hire a former Troma director and cast Vin Diesel as a walking tree or Bradley Cooper as a raccoon. But the concept was so crazy it worked; audiences fell in love with it, and then, when it was released on video, fell in love with it again.

Conversely, TV had a reduced presence from last year. With Breaking Bad and How I Met Your Mother now concluded, Game of Thrones has assumed the pole position by virtue of its numbers seeing negligible change. Once again, Wikipedia viewers, for obvious reasons, favoured the "watercooler shows" that require a large amount of background knowledge to stay current, like The Walking Dead or True Detective, or geek-friendly fare, such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

As with last year, music stars were the majority of celebrities on the list, as their frequent concerts and media appearances keep their flames alight longer than others of their stripe. In the regretted and possibly surprising absence of Jennifer Lawrence, former Nickelodeon poplet Ariana Grande claimed the position of Wikipedia's most popular woman by default. Less explicable is the enduring interest in Jordan Belfort, a hedonist who financed his playboy lifestyle by scamming investors out of millions, who now hosts motivational seminars on how to get rich quick. True, he was the subject of a moderately popular film in 2013, but that still doesn't explain his appearance on this year's list.

Rank Article Class Views
1 Deaths in 2014 List 20,967,890
2 Facebook B-class 20,281,198
3 Ebola virus disease B-class 18,585,050
4 2014 FIFA World Cup C-class 15,659,069
5 Game of Thrones B-class 14,473,769
6 Robin Williams B-class 12,883,344
7 United States Good Article 12,797,361
8 Wikipedia C-class 12,423,091
9 List of Bollywood films of 2014 List 12,221,398
10 Google Good Article 11,764,884
11 2014 in film List 11,067,892
12 YouTube Good Article 11,008,475
13 The Walking Dead (TV series) Good Article 10,083,875
14 Frozen (2013 film) B-class 9,783,251
15 Ariana Grande C-Class 9,451,283
16 India Featured Article 9,134,409
17 Guardians of the Galaxy (film) C-Class 9,008,117
18 True Detective (TV series) C-class 8,828,585
19 Iggy Azalea C-class 8,500,361
20 FIFA World Cup Featured Article 8,449,861
21 World War I B-class 8,402,341
22 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant B-class 8,321,501
23 Jordan Belfort C-class 8,311,525
24 List of Game of Thrones episodes List 8,274,910
25 Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. B-Class 7,920,343
TV show
2014 event
Historical event

+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

These comments are automatically transcluded from this article's talk page. To follow comments, add the page to your watchlist. If your comment has not appeared here, you can try purging the cache.
Actually, the mobile data didn't really help much this time; I basically chose which articles to exclude based on the fact that I'd excluded them before. Next year, when we have a full year's set of mobile data, it should come in handy. Serendipodous 09:10, 30 January 2015 (UTC)[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0