The Geography of Wikipedia Articles

Mapping Wikipedia, an interactive map that filters the encyclopedia's geo-located entries, gives a sense of place to something we all take for granted.

Jul 23 2014, 8:04pm

You're looking at 800,000 (of a total 1,001,591) geo-located Wikipedia articles created in eight major languages, dating back to when the free, collaborative online encyclopedia was born, in 2001, up to the present. Drink it in. Impressive, no?

It's just one of a dizzying number of Wiki-crawling maps made possible by Mapping Wikipedia, a collaboration between TraceMedia and the Oxford Internet Institute. The map is generated from a data archive of all geo-located Wikipedia articles in Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, English, Farsi, French, Hebrew, and Swahili. To help you zero in on what you're after, Mapping Wikipedia allows you to filter over 18 major geographic regions, and a range of article traits like density, language, date created, word count, number of authors, images, and WikiLinks, section depth, and anonymous edits.

To start pretty wide, here's the 708,003 English articles from around the world, all color-coded by the year they were created:

Depending on the parameters you choose, certain searches are going to take a minute or two or four, like this image. The image way up top, of some of those 800,000 total geo-located articles in Mapping WIkipedia's crawl of the encyclopedia, took roughly five minutes to load. So pro tip: Be patient. And use an updated browser, otherwise you're liable to crash. (I'm using Chrome, and save being forced to stare at the map as the entries populate—which I found kind of hypnotic in its own right—I had no crashes.) 

Where things really get interesting, or at least mildly fun, is when you look a little closer. No matter what filters you're working with, the map lets you punch in on specific articles. Here's one of the commuter rail stops in my hometown that I pulled from the bigger map above:

Let's try something a bit narrower. Here's all 23,996 Arabic articles from around the world, again color-coded by date:

Now, all 246,398 articles in both Farsi and French from around the world, based on word count:

What's cool is you can instantly start noticing broad trends. It looks, for example, like the 100-250 word range is a bit of a sweet spot. 

OK, let's try one more. Here's all 189,157 articles in both Farsi and French tagged throughout Asia and Europe, and that included anonymous edits: 

I've reached out to both TraceMedia and the OII to see if they've got plans to expand Mapping Wikipedia, at least in terms of languages. I'll update this article if I hear back. 

Either way, the textures and site-specific underpinnings of the biggest, most widely-used encyclopedia on Earth have never looked this good. (Although the real-time edits, at least, have sounded better.) It's like peeling away the layers of an onion grown in the dirt alongside Rainbow Road. If anything, it gives Wikipedia's wealth of information a crucial sense of place, one that's otherwise lost on so many of us humans who take the thing for granted as just another resource floating up in the cloud.

The robots, though... Well, of course they already have their own Wikipedia.