What the Most-Edited Wikipedia Articles in the Last 15 Years Say About Us
There are an infinite number of ways to measure time and human progress. One of those is in Wikipedia edits. Since the site's inception in 2001, Wikipedia has allowed the average Joe to write and edit content across any of its 38 million articles.
According to the Wikipedia page on Wikipedia — a credible source under these circumstances — the site boasts more than 27 million registered editors. But over the years, those editors haven't exactly been indiscriminate in what pages get the most TLC. In celebration of the site's 15th birthday on Friday, this compilation of the most-edited Wikipedia entries of all time paints a portrait of who and what was on our minds over the last decade and a half: controversial figures, historical events and the minutiae in between.
In 2001, "Creationism" was the most edited article, with a now-modest 149 total edits. In 2006, the Wikipedia page on the Lebanon War received 15,067 edits, and in 2008 Sarah Palin's page came in second, with 10,429 edits. In some ways, this data is unsurprising: 2006 was the year of the Lebanon War, and in 2008 Palin ran as John McCain's vice president.
George W. Bush holds the title of the most-edited Wikipedia page ever, followed by the list of WWE personnel (yup, that's pro wrestling) and the United States. Among the top 15 pages are Jesus, Adolf Hitler, Barack Obama and Britney Spears.
The ongoing conflict in Syria and the viral K-pop single that broke YouTube earned second and third place in 2012. After "Lebanon War," the page for the Wii gathered the most edits in 2006.
But how is it that Wikipedia gets us to utter "Syrian Civil War" and "Gangnam Style" in the same breath? Well, on Wikipedia, breaking news and pop culture are considered in equal measure.
"People are passionate about a wide variety of different things, and I think it's kind of cool that the environment of Wikipedia can reflect that array of passions," Wikimedia Foundation attorney Stephen LaPorte told Mic. LaPorte observes Wikipedia's data pretty regularly, but said when he gathered the statistics for the most-edited pages, there were still some surprises. "It's not necessarily just the things you're learning at school," he added. "Pop culture stands beside things you'd learn in history class."
Still, many of these edits arise less from value judgments than from pure necessity. In 2007 the list of WWE personnel received more edits than the page on the Virginia Tech shooting. Consistently, Wikipedia's lists — specifically, and unsurprisingly, the lists of deaths every year — beat out all other pages for the top spot. "Deaths in 2015" was last year's most-edited page, and "Deaths in 2016" is already well underway, with the most recent edit including the death of actor Alan Rickman.
LaPorte noted that often an increase in edits can be the result of hackathons or "Wikipedia-thons," in which groups of people will get together to edit a single page or group of pages. In March, a group of hackers got together at the Museum of Modern Art, and remotely across the U.S., to close the gender gap on Wikipedia to create and edit pages about women in art. In 2014, a Cuban blogger inspired a hackathon in Miami to help people in Cuba better access open-information platforms like Wikipedia.
"Wikipedia is open to everyone so it reflects what people feel the need to discuss," LaPorte said. "I think of Wikipedia edits as the zeitgeist of the internet."