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October 17, 2006

Wikipedia and Academic Research

The market share of US visits to Wikipedia has been growing steadily over the past few years. In September 2006, it ranked as the 20th most visited internet domain in the US, up 204% since September 2005. Search engines were responsible for 69% of Wikipedia's upstream traffic, and the majority of that traffic comes from organic search results on Google and Yahoo! Search. Clearly Wikipedia's content structure and internal linking strategy have helped grow its traffic.

The chart below shows the steadily increasing market share of visits to Wikipedia. What you'll notice upon closer examination is that Wikipedia's traffic is tied to the academic school year. That bump in December 2005? Finals and term paper time. The subsequent dip? Christmas vacation. The larger bump in May 06? Finals again. Another dip in traffic during the summer months, and another surge in September as school starts.


Clearly a good deal of school homework is being aided by Wikipedia. This poses an issue for K-12 and college educators alike: do they allow referencing of Wikipedia in papers and reports? Are students getting accurate information from an encyclopedia that can be edited by nearly anyone? Or are students using Wikipedia as a starting off point in their research and linking through to more established reference sources on the web?

Hitwise clickstream data show that the largest category of sites in Wikipedia's downstream is Entertainment, at 18% for the week ending October 7, 2006. Maybe they're not doing academic research at all! However, Search Engines follow, at 12.4%, which implies that some users are reading the Wikipedia entry and then continuing their search. Another 9% went to other reference sites, and 7% went to Net Communities and Chat. It's hard to glean much from looking at the rest of the list - the huge breadth of content on Wikipedia means that it distributes traffic to wide array of sites as well.

I was intrigued that other Reference sites took up such a large portion of Wikipedia's clickstream - essentially this is competitive activity. I was also intrigued that Net Communities & Chat (i.e., MySpace) took up such a large portion. I was very excited to create is almost a perfect butterfly chart, which further drives home the point that much of Wikipedia's traffic is academic research. The chart below shows the upstream traffic to Wikipedia from the Net Communities and Chat category against the Reference category. When school is out, Wikipedia users are more likely to be using their social networks, and most likely conducting un-academic queries, while when school is in session, they are more likely to be using other reference sites like Answers.com and Dictionary.com before going to Wikipedia.


Posted by LeeAnn Prescott at October 17, 2006 08:58 AM | Digg this story Digg this

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