wikibump.jpg The elegant and useful Wikipedia article traffic statistics utility is a great poor man's Q score, but it has a lot of delightfully useless uses as well. One of my favorites is monitoring "wikibumps," the jump in traffic that happens when an article is in the news.

It turns out that wikibumps usually peak in the first 24 hours, then taper off in about a week, giving further evidence for the hypothesis that the public's memory generally extends back to the last issue of People magazine. In some cases, the article achieves stasis at a higher level than it had before the wikibump. For instance, Kanye "Imma Let You Finish" West's bump was 300,000. Taylor Swift's was 250,000, but Taylor probably came out ahead, as she achieved stasis at more than twice Kanye's views in December, the last full month of reporting.

More observations below. What wikibumps can you find?

The best way to get a Wikibump is to:

jackson-wikibump.jpg1. Die unexpectedly while famous.

Michael Jackson's wikibump was about 6 million in the first 24 hours. There's certainly a formula for the variables, which are age at time of death, level of fame, cause of death.

Ted Kennedy got a big wikibump, but it was limited by his being fairly old, terminally ill, and not especially interesting to young pop-culture fans.

Brittany Murphy had an unusual 2-day Wikibump, which may have been related to when in the news cycle her death was reported.

2. Be involved in a controversial incident

Alleged terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had a delayed Wikibump due to low-traffic pantsbombing during the holidays.

Travis the rampaging chimpanzee got the same wikibump as Mr. Sizzlepants, about 10,000, up from 0.

Beauty pageant bigot Carrie Prejean had a highly unusual trifecta of wikibumps in April, May, and June following her comments on gay marriage and the ensuing fallout.

What I like most is to compare paired Wikibumps. For instance, cartoonist Sean Delonas and Travis the chimp had connected Wikibumps after Delonas did a controversial political cartoon about the Travis incident. Delonas' was more of a wikibump echo.

Wikibumps are also closely tied with article improvement. Articles tend to have a flurry of editing during a wikibump, demonstrating that the fastest ways to get an article expanded are death or controversy. Or nominating it for deletion.

Please share wikibumps you discover in the comments!


  1. Predictably, Yemen had a large bump recently. Took a break over the New Years celebration, but came back strong.
    However, since not much can beat them, Avatar and James Cameron have been getting some legit traffic. Destroying Yemen in fact. (The only destruction of Yemen I’d like to see thankyouverymuch)

    Boing Boing’s greatest single day was Jan 29, 2009 at 1.8k. Why? No idea. Nothing super significant blog wise and no wiki page edits. Shrugsville I guess. And only a one day thing.

    1. Good spotting! I know Mr. Colbert had a significant effect on the elephant articles in July/August 2006, but that was before the stats utility was created.

  2. This post rules!! It inspired me to investigate the stats for term “full moon”, and then make an animation showing how the bumps follow the day of the month that the full moon occurs each time! I posted it at if anyone wants to see. Great tool, I only wish the site could let you control the parameters of the graph (choose start and ending day for instance so you can view trends across a several month span, or over all year).

  3. The more interesting stat would be the number of edits of a page. Apparently Sarah Palin’s page got edited heavily the day before John McCain announced her as his VP candidate. If you were monitoring it you would’ve noticed something was up, and if the editor’s IP connects it to the campaign, that’s even better.

    Google could really launch their own “TMZ”. Just monitor IP spaces and see what sort of things they’re googling, now you know what’s on a company’s mind (e.g. someone at Apple googling for the specs to a particular piece of hardware)…

    Cool, huh?

    1. @netsharc I used to work for a large financial information website that did exactly what you describe but focussed on users from investment banks like Morgan Sachs. It was a fairly good predictor of mergers and acquisitions activity.

  4. I’ve found a couple of spikes relating to XKCD comic strips when the author mentions something obscure. For example, the day this ( comic was released (5th June 09) the entry Voynich_manuscript saw a 510% increase in traffic.

  5. “public’s memory”? i think it’s more like a combination of human memory, sated audience, and other possibly more interesting or vital things to think about coming down the pike.

  6. Palin’s article does have the canonical example of a wikibump. However, in that case, it’s because millions of people heard the McCain campaign’s announcement, said “Sarah who?”, and turned to the Internet for answers. The mysterious whitewashing from the day before was done with a registered username, not an IP, so connecting that now-moribund editor to the campaign will prove rather difficult.

    As for number of edits per day… well, the history does have that for the patient. Obviously, it’s trivial to tell when an article has had one or two or zero revisions on a particular day. For larger quantities, though, use the “diff” tool in the history: select the last revision before the day in question and compare it to the first revision after. The resulting diff will say “X intermediate revisions skipped”, telling how many revisions were done on a particular day.

    Of course, the trouble with counting edits is that some articles are not open for editing. Palin’s article, for instance, has been in and out of protection, so random passersby cannot always edit.

  7. While it is probably true that the public has a memory of about a week, I don’t think that is the main reason wikibumps peter out in that time. More likely it is because almost everyone who is going to become aware a news story will be exposed within a week of the event happening. People look things up immediately (or very soon) and don’t feel the need to look it up again later.

  8. It turns out that wikibumps usually peak in the first 24 hours, then taper off in about a week, giving further evidence for the hypothesis that the public’s memory generally extends back to the last issue of People magazine.

    No, that actually is evidence that people don’t have short memories—i.e. something new happens, and people look it, and after a few days, everyone who would look it up in wikipedia has, and remembers what they read. If people’s memories were that bad, they’d have to keep looking the same things up over and over. Truly familiar things probably don’t get much of a bump at all—e.g. Iraq probably no longer gets much of a bump when big news happens there.

  9. Neat!

    This kind of thing is relatively easy to do with Google…
    (and do follow the links to the “Hot Trends” and “fastest rising search queries” tools)

    … but it hadn’t occurred to me to do it with Wikipedia.

    And don’t some Wikipedia articles get a “This article has recently been linked to from a major-traffic website” or something? I remember that from a couple years ago but not for a while (long enough ago that I think I might be making this up).

  10. I haven’t tried it but I bet there’s a bump following every XKCD cartoon involving mathematical concepts! (Even if the bump is just me looking up the concept again and again until I still don’t understand it, but with a better level of ignorance.)

  11. A few other xkcd wikibumps:
    (Stephen and Me – 2009.12.04)
    (Spinal Tap Amps – 2009.12.02)
    (SkiFree – 2009.11.25) More than 80000 hits in the 2 weeks following the comic up from a few hundreds per day
    (Sagan-Man – 2009.11.16) (Orbitals – 2009.11.04) (So Bad It’s Worse – 2009.10.23)
    (RPS – 2009.10.05) Reverse Polish Sausage
    (Lincoln-Douglas – 2009.09.21)

    And thak you Henrik

  12. wanted to see if there was a bump in pageviews of The Graduate on the 8th after the revelations of the Mrs. Robinson, the Northern Ireland MP’s affair with a 19 yr old (Iris Robinson spiked from next to nothing to almost 26k on the 8th ). unfortunately not but there was a spike on Dec. 27th, the day before MP Robinson retired and before any scandal I am aware of. (December) (January) Bump could come on the 9th (numbers not out yet) as it got some coverage in US media on the 9th that drew explicit comparison. any explanation for the 27th bump?

  13. This is an excellent illustration of the fact that Wikipedia is a pop culture phenomenon, not a reliable source of meaningful information.

  14. I love BoingBoing. Introducing someone deserving as “beauty pageant bigot” is what I always hear in my head, and here it says it right in the article. It just has a lovely alliterative quality, too. (Also, I knew immediately who it was, when I still can’t remember her actual name after scrolling down the page.) Thanks, BoingBoing! You make the sarcastic voice in my head sound less crazy!

  15. My favorite Wikibump is for “Turing Test” due to Dilbert:

    In the Dilbert comic strip on Sunday 30 March 2008, Dilbert says to his boss “Congratulations. You’re the first human to fail the Turing Test.” after he responds only with meaningless, tautological thought-terminating clichés. In the comic, Dilbert says, “The security audit accidentally locked all of the developers out of the system”, and his boss responds with “Well, it is what it is.” Dilbert asks “How does that help” and his boss responds with another cliche, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” For that day, “turing test” was the 43rd most popular Google search [].
    (I wish I knew how to annotate that spike in the graph.)

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