Sarah Palin

Ever heard of Sarah Palin? I bet you know a few things about her. I bet you did not one week ago. When senator John McCain announced she would be his running mate for the presidential election she was unknown to nearly everyone outside Alaska. Washington Post:While Palin, pronounced PAY-lin, had been mentioned as a dark-horse candidate for the job, she was never described as being on the shortlist under consideration by McCain.” This would change rapidly.

Wikimedia board member Stu West noticed that she features prominently on Melancholie‘s list of most viewed pages on the English Wikipedia in August. Stu: “it’s pretty amazing as she was hardly known until August 28 or 29 so to be #2 for the month that article must have had a HUGE amount of traffic in just the final few days of the month.” I agree.

I thought it would be neat to plot the rising of Sarah’s star on a hour-per-hour basis,
from a few days before till a few days after the announcement.

Note 1: Don’t be confused. The scales of both diagrams differ widely.

Note 2: The public announcement by McCain was first mentioned on his Wikipedia page at 15:12 GMT/UTC, and at 15:21 on Wikinews. Given the speed with which Wikipedia usually reacts that places the announcement in Dayton, Ohio around 15:10 GMT or 11:10 AM Eastern (GMT-4).

Note3: The second smaller spike occurred on September 4 between 2:00 and 4:00 GMT/UTC, or September 3 between 10:00 PM and 12:00 PM Eastern (GMT-4), which must have been the moment Sarah delivered her acceptance speech

The filtered page request logs are available here. Note that these are page requests: some url’s lead to a “Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name

In total I found 4,746,102 page views on the English Wikipedia in August, which is 153,100 avg. per day over the whole month (or 1.58 million avg. in the last three days of August).

This is the total of all requests that contain her name, in all varieties of upper and lower case. The latter explains why my count is significantly higher that Melancholies’ (134,400). His script counts talk page and image page views as well as each spelling variety separately. For instance ‘Sarah_palin’ counts for another 7,192 views avg. per day.

Joe Biden

Update: The story would not be complete without a similar analysis for Joe Biden.

Note that scales for both diagrams are different from Sarah Palin’s. Seemingly Joe’s candidacy was less of a surprise, his article already received quite a few visitors in the days before Barack Obama announced his candidacy. More importantly far less people turned to Wikipedia directly after the announcement. Possibly because Joe was far less of a dark horse to the general public.

A direct comparison

Broader perspective

We have seen before how Wikipedia visitor counts can alert us of breaking news:

An earlier example of how a major world event became instantly visible in our traffic stats was on April 19, 2005 when “Habemus Papam” was declared in Rome, signaling that cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from now on was pope Benedict XVI.

“You can clearly see a spike at 17 UTC when the new pope was elected” (Jakob Voss).

Matthias Schindler also mentioned that same example in his talk in Alexandria, but then went further by posing the question “Can we get a better understanding of what is happening in the world right now just by looking at our request numbers?” and illustrating that with the following diagram (pdf):

Wikipedia view counts for Democratic candidates from 10 Dec 07 till 4 Jan 08 (Mathias Schindler)

How intriguing. Yet I want to emphasize that any inferences from these view stats should be made with caution, especially in the last chart when the period is rather small for the subject at hand: the chart may reflect day to day news events rather than (or mixed with) long term popularity trends.

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