Is Google the real key to Wikipedia's success?

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 18 January 2011

The Internet has been celebrating the 10th anniversary of Wikipedia, which is held up as the poster child of crowd-sourcing and the proof of the existence of what Clay Shirky calls the 'cognitive surplus' that the web enables us to harness.

There is no doubt that, despite the odd unreliability and my own issues with some of the deletionist tendencies in the community, it is a fantastic resource.

I do wonder, though, whether Google gets enough credit for the success of Wikipedia.

The site, almost by accident rather than design, is heavily optimised for 'classic' Google SEO - lengthy text-heavy articles on a single subject, densely interlinked, and with the majority of external links using the same anchor text.

Given that for many years now Google has effectively been the single point of access to the web for a vast majority of users, if it hadn't started ranking Wikipedia as an authority, would it still have been such a success?

You can see this 'natural' SEO effect of Wikipedia at work if you search for Ruth Gledhill or the 3am Girls. Despite their entries on the dictionary being classified as 'British journalist stubs', their Wikipedia pages still rank #1 when you search Google for them, above their pages on The Times or Mirror sites, and in Ruth's case, above her own website and Twitter stream.

Wikipedia may be a marvel of the modern age, but Google certainly gives it the exposure that allowed it to gain that status.

11 Comments

Yes there's no doubt in my mind that Google is greatly responsible for Wikipedia's popularity and credibillity. Wich can be said about a lot of other companies too, I think.

I agree with you!

The Wikipedia is a great idea, but without Google would be far away from the people who search for information!

Nowadays Wikipedia is a synonym of good content and trustful information! Because of the good Page Rank, position in google and really good texts!

I dont think google gets enough credit but in my opinion Google receive many things ($$) by showing Wikipedia information for users!

(Sorry for my "english", I'm brazilian n' there is a long time that I dont pratice!)

More testament to the effectiveness of Google's search algorithm in that it prioritises text heavy, dense articles. For most searches this is probably the type of result we want.

I have to agree with Leon - Google prioritises Wikipedia precisely because they provide the kind of rich, background-information that people are often looking for when searching.

I often find myself refining Google searches by adding the word "Wikipedia" when a relevant wikipedia page doesn't come up first.

I don't think it's as much a case of Google making Wikipedia a success, but of the blogosphere making Wikipedia a success by linking liberally to it - and thus boosting Wikipedia's ranking in Google. Wikipedia's prominence in Google is a side-effect of the site's popularity in the blogosphere.

You make some interesting points, Google and Wikipedia do seem to be symbiotically made for each other. Wiki is also viral in its own nature, and I think they do an amazing job with the standards quality given that its all user generated. Google does deserves some credit, if only just knowing a winner when they one.

As you say, wikipedia is pretty much made for google, but the same is true of any number of other websites, although maybe not quite as ubiquitous as wikipedia.

Thinking back to pre-google days, would wikipedia have succeeded without google? Probably, would it have been as well known? Possibly not. Academic question as wikipedia started after google had come to prominence.

Begs the question, if google hadn't "come along", would another "googlelike machine" have appeared? There were many competitors who were out there and who have subsequently fallen by the wayside either altogether or to a large degree. Probably, yes.

I wonder if it's possible to get details from Wikipedia about their early traffic sources, or whether they monitored their page rank in the early days. As other people have already said, it seems pretty symbiotic whether the Wikichicken or GoogleEgg came first!

It's interesting, isn't it? Play by the rules and you go to the top... mind you, playing by the rules doesn't always guarantee quality.

I don't think it's as much a case of Google making Wikipedia a success, but of the blogosphere making Wikipedia a success by linking liberally to it - and thus boosting Wikipedia's ranking in Google. Wikipedia's prominence in Google is a side-effect of the site's popularity in the blogosphere.

While I do agree with you, I believe that most of the time the Wikipedia page on the topic the user is googling will provide most, or even all of the information the user is looking for. In my experience, I often find it much easier and faster to get information from a Wikipedia page than from the official website of something or someone.

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