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.

This entry was posted in Nice Charts, Wikimedia View(er)s. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Sarah Palin

  1. Melancholie says:

    Forget my previous explanations and details!

    Actually, the only reason is that only ’30’ days had been analysed by me! With day 31 (with 1,084,027 hits!) the average number will totally change of course! Sarah Palin got public on August 29 (three days)!

  2. Stu West says:

    Very cool, Erik. Thx for this interesting study. As a contrast, wouldn’t it be interesting to compare the above data to a similar time series for Joe Biden (fixed, say, around the spike of the announcement of each of their nominations to be their party’s VP nominee). He’s a much better known politician who is well covered in other media sources, so I would hypothesize fewer people turned to Wikipedia for knowledge about him than did with Palin. Could really reinforces the idea that Wikipedia has taken on as an important source especially for long-tail or lesser-known topics.

  3. Erik says:

    Melancholie, I updated the post to explain the discrepancy and will copy your newest data once 31 August has been incorporated.

  4. Erik says:

    Stu, great idea, I’ll find some time later this week to make a similar chart for Joe Biden

  5. Melancholie says:

    What also would be very interesting is, if you could do an analysis of in comparison to (respectivaly / for before Aug. 30), as the flooding in india seems worse (in view of humanity) but is more or less ignored!

  6. Melancholie says:

    @Erik: Thanks. I will tell you per e-mail (or bgColor is green (not yet)). @Day31: I meant ‘460,438 hits’ (‘1,084,027 hits’ is day 30).

  7. Erik says:

    Following Stu’s suggestion I added charts for Joe Biden and a chart for direct comparison of both running mates.
    I also extended Sarah’s chart with a few more days, beyond her acceptance speech at the convention.

  8. Melancholie says:

    @spelling varieties:

    By the way, Henrik gave me another good example for topical uppercase/lowercase difference: and (

  9. Stu West says:

    Wow that’s quite a difference between Biden and Palin — what a great data series. thx.

  10. Diggerjohn111 says:

    It’s not surprising. In a non-partisan view of it, more people know of Sen. Biden. Gov. Palin was an unknown element in the lower 48 US. Her ascendancy is one of the most interesting stories in US politics in decades. Naturally people are going to view information on her, supporting her, or not.

  11. Erik says:

    Certainly. The point is not that Sarah was unknown, the points is that so many people turned to Wikipedia instantly to find out. Don’t mistake this for a popularity contest (see also last paragraph).

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  13. keemex says:

    If I most add to this variety suggestion, then I will say Sarah. P was a victim of popularity because she was not known to the half majority of America but when she came out to run with J McCain that is when she got her popularity from and she can’t be compare to J Bi-den in any area. I think what people of America think about her is that of her psyche attitude and what do you expect from the election. It’s her psyche attitude that contributed to the failure of J McCain.

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