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Covid-19 Wikipedia pageviews, a first look

World events often have a dramatic impact on online services. A past example would be the death of Michael Jackson which brought down Twitter and Wikipedia and made Google believe that they were under attack according to the BBC.

Events like the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic have less instantaneous affect but trends can still be seen to change. Cloudflare recently posted about some of the internet wide traffic changes due to the pandemic and various government announcements, quarantines and lockdowns.

Currently the main English Wikipedia article for the COVID-19 pandemic is receiving roughly 1.2 million page views per day (14 per second). This article has already gone through 4 different names over the past months, and the pageview rate continues to climb.

Wikipedia pageviews tool showing English Wikipedia COVID-19 pandemic article views up to 21 March 2020 (source)

Interestingly there was a decrease in pageviews throughout February compared to the week after the article was first created and since the continued increase in the pandemic. This decrease in pageviews also lines up with a decrease in general interest according to Google Trends.

Interest over time on Google Trends for Coronavirus – Worldwide, 17/01/2020 – 22/03/2020 (source)

Information is not only available in English, and other language Wikipedia pages are also seeing high and increasing pageviews with Russian leading the way, closely followed by Spanish, German and Chinese.

Taking these other language editions into account we reach roughly 2.4 million daily page views for the pandemic (28 per second), which is double that of the English article alone.

Wikipedia langviews tool showing the top 10 language editions COVID-19 pandemic pages on the 20th march 2020 (source)

A comprehensive list of current Wikipedia article titles relating to COVID-19 in all languages can be generated using the Wikidata Query Service using a fairly simple query. These ~2,500 page titles can then be used to retrieve further pageview data. A snapshot of the list used can be found here.

Looking at this full list of article titles across all language Wikipedias over the last week the topic interest has continued growing, and on the 21st March the topic received 4.5 million page views (52 per second).

COVID-19 related Wikipedia pageviews between the 14th and 21st March 2020

A continued increase in interest can be seen across all continents. The split per continent looks roughly consistent with general Wikipedia viewing figures, though Asia would normally be below North America, and Africa would normally be below South America.

COVID-19 related Wikipedia pageviews split by continent between the 14th and 21st March 2020

Looking at per country trends for the countries with the largest number of pageviews most countries appear to be trending up. Germany appears to have shown the most dramatic increase in interest in the past week. The United States and India have the highest pageviews on a single day. Italy actually appears to be trending down.

COVID-19 related Wikipedia pageviews split by country, where the country made over 100k pageviews a day, between the 14th and 21st March 2020

In order to see trends across all Wikimedia sites for a large number of pages it will be important to account for historical page names of articles. As identified at the top of this post the English Wikipedia article has passed through 4 different names in the past months, as I expect is also the case for other languages. As a result simply generating trend data for the current names misses data before the last name change, which is why the total, continent and country graphs only show the last 1 week.

Notes

  • All “page views” within this post refer to views by real users (excluding web crawlers etc).
  • Final aggregate data & splits by country and continent generated using the WMF Data Lake.
  • A typo in the Wikidata Query Service SPARQL query meant that ~300 page titles (out of ~1,700) were not checked during this blog post.

2 Comments

  1. I would like to point to “Spanish Flu” articles page views. These articles have not – to my knowledge – undergone recent renaming, so no aggregation of statistics is necessary. https://tools.wmflabs.org/pageviews/?project=en.wikipedia.org&platform=all-access&agent=user&range=latest-90&pages=Spanish_flu I find it interesting that there are ups and downs, and one may wonder if that corresponds to the pessimism and optimism concerning COVID-19.

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