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Why Do People Go To Wikipedia? A Survey Suggests It's Their Desire To Go Down that Random Rabbit Hole (niemanlab.org) 43

What's motivated people to visit the Wikipedia pages they're reading? Wikipedia recently tried to answer that question at scale by asking a sample of Wikipedia readers last June, "Why are you reading this article today?" It seems a lot of people go to Wikipedia for earnest, serious, information-seeking reasons. From a report: The study collected 215,000 responses from visitors to Wikipedia pages across 14 languages (Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Dutch, English, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Japanese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian). The survey offered readers choices from seven types of motivations for why they were reading the Wikipedia page they were reading (e.g., "I have a work or school-related assignment, I need to make a personal decision based on this topic, I want to know more about a current event"). Thirty-five percent of Wikipedia users sampled across the 14 languages in this study said they were on the site to find a specific fact. Thirty-three percent said they were looking for an overview of a topic, while 32 percent said they wanted to get information on a topic in-depth.
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Why Do People Go To Wikipedia? A Survey Suggests It's Their Desire To Go Down that Random Rabbit Hole

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  • Curiousitity's sake (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @11:05AM (#56279555) Homepage Journal

    Even when all I had was a set of physical encyclopedias and no internet access, it was not unusual for me to pass the time by flipping a volume open and seeing if I could find something interesting to read.

    • by Kernel Kurtz ( 182424 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @11:29AM (#56279651) Homepage

      Even when all I had was a set of physical encyclopedias and no internet access, it was not unusual for me to pass the time by flipping a volume open and seeing if I could find something interesting to read.

      Likewise. I can also spend hours "surfing" Wikipedia. Start on one topic, click some links to expand on a concept, click some more links and so on, and after a while you are reading about something completely different from what you started on.

      • Quite. Just yesterday I was reading about 10 dimensional space and string theory. How I got there from Disney's multi layer camera used for animation is anyone's guess.

      • There's another reason, which TFA completely omits to mention: That in many cases Wikipedia is the first hit, or the first non-marketing-sponsored hit, for pretty much any noun you type into a search engine. You just end up there by default, like a Starbuck's.
        • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

          Wikipedia is a nexus of information.

          A large amount of information on Wikipedia is valuable. Not always entirely correct but it's hard to get every spot correct in a user-driven system.

        • by epine ( 68316 )

          That in many cases Wikipedia is the first hit, or the first non-marketing-sponsored hit, for pretty much any noun you type into a search engine. You just end up there by default, like a Starbuck's.

          While Wikipedia might be an unreliable street urchin, your grasping alternatives are almost certainly Hotel California pedophiles with glowing, flashing, throbbing kiddy canes (though some are disguised better than others).

          No, you don't end on Wikipedia by default. You end up on Wikipedia by wisdom of the prudent

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Note just that but also it is the last hit quite often ie do the search, wikipedia article pops up, read it and done. I am finding wikipedia comes up less often now, at least before I dropped google and switched to duckduckgo and wikipedia became the default again.

      • by jwhyche ( 6192 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @01:40PM (#56280191) Homepage

        Likewise. I can also spend hours "surfing" Wikipedia

        Same here. My first set of physical encyclopedias where magic to me. I could look up anything, even forbidden subjects. So many times I just grabbed a random one off the shelf to see what was in it.

        I'm the same with Wikipedia and its random link. It's just magic. Just click it and learn something new. An its all linked together. One article leads to another. I have to be careful or I can spend hours just randomly wondering from one to the next.

        • by WallyL ( 4154209 )

          Likewise. I can also spend hours "surfing" Wikipedia

          Same here. My first set of physical encyclopedias where magic to me. I could look up anything, even forbidden subjects. So many times I just grabbed a random one off the shelf to see what was in it.

          I'm the same with Wikipedia and its random link. It's just magic. Just click it and learn something new. An its all linked together. One article leads to another. I have to be careful or I can spend hours just randomly wondering from one to the next.

          Me three. Encyclopedias were fascinating books. If I ever got off the Internet, I'd go read encyclopedias again. When I was on a weekend trip and without internet, the rented space had a full encyclopedia set from the early 1960s! Everyone else watched tv or played board games, and I looked up gene theory before Watson and Crick's seminal discovery of DNA.

          • by jwhyche ( 6192 )

            the rented space had a full encyclopedia set from the early 1960s

            My grandmother had a old set of encyclopedia's from before the moon landings. On the article on space travel is was full of theories on how we would land on the moon and be on Mars by 1980.

            I wonder if it would be a good program to start to try to rescue old encyclopedia sets as some kind of historical archive of knowledge.

    • Old dictionaries were amusing too. Before cars, the word "accelerator" had a different meaning: it's a muscle in your penis.
  • Visit an encyclopedia-esque website for information.
    Visit a news website for news.
    Visit a gaming site for gaming.

    • I wonder how many readers use Wikipedia as a springboard for deeper research on a subject they need to learn about?

      When I have a question where I'm sure there is a discrete answer, like "how do I calculate a square root by hand", Wikipedia can usually give me the answer with no further searching required. But if my question is "what is the history of calculation of square roots" or a similar complex question, I will often start with the same Wikipedia article, then use its footnotes and bibliography to gui

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I simply like to rea basic info about a variety of random things.

    I often read about a movie I just watched, or some topic that came up in the day. For example, yesterday I read about die casting because my wife asked me what did cast means, when I mentioned something about die cast cars. Last night I was reading about memory, as a follow up to a movie I watched recently. I also read about places I want to go to, or while I am there. Going to Illinois? Maybe I will read itâ(TM)s Wiliepedia page.

    Overall

  • Eh (Score:5, Informative)

    by fisted ( 2295862 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @11:12AM (#56279581)

    35 percent [...] said they were on the site to find a specific fact.
    33 percent said they were looking for an overview of a topic, while
    32 percent said they wanted to get information on a topic in-depth.

    So that leaves us with 0% who just wanted to go down that random rabbit hole, as the headline says. Seems legit.

  • Laziness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tgeek ( 941867 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @11:15AM (#56279593)
    Pure and simple. When I have a question about "something", whether that "something" is a casual curiosity question ("What did the Hittites contribute to civilization?") to a technical question I need for my job ("What's the advantages of protocol 'x' over protocol 'y'?), it's far easier to find a "good enough" answer from wikipedia than to filter thru pages of crap search results from the large search engines (most of which I refuse to use anyway). And if I want more detail than wp provides, there's often enough cited references to make wp into a little search engine.
    • I often use Wikipedia as a quick start and afterwards look up more in-depth information elsewhere. Wikipedia is particularly good for 'light' mathematical topics in my opinion (like e.g. looking up Kolmogorov's axioms or what a preorder is). There is one essential thing missing, though, that many lexica andsubject-matter compendiums have: a good further reading / curated bibliography section. The bibliography sections of Wikipedia are often abysmal, based on sometimes arbitray citations used to write the a
      • Re:Laziness (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mysticgoat ( 582871 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @12:49PM (#56279961) Homepage Journal

        My experience differs from what you describe. Maybe we are searching for very different kinds of information. Or maybe you and I have very different criteria for judging the goodness of a bibliography.

        I have generally found the further reading suggested in footnotes and biblios of Wikipedia articles to be quite useful. Partly because these often suggest materials that are quickly accessible web pages. When I think about it, I think I usually google for a Wikipedia article about each of the more prominent articles and authors that were referenced in the original article before going to any particular source, especially when the source is only available in hardcopy. But that secondary searching is so easy to do and takes so little time that I don't take much conscious note of it.

        I miss my days of spending hours in the card catalog and the library stacks: those are now ancient memories. I remember feeling the sense of a day well spent when I left the library with three books on a subject of interest. Now between Wikipedia and Google I cover a much broader range of incidental discoveries and I am prepared for much deeper research into the subject of interest in much less time.

      • by epine ( 68316 )

        ... Wikipedia are often abysmal, based on sometimes arbitrary citations used to write the article, and, generally speaking, Wikipedia is not a good starting point to find seminal literature on a topic.

        This is true.

        But spray a few keywords or central names gleaned from Wikipedia into Semantic Scholar, problem solved (though presently restricted to computer science and biomedicine):

        Semantic Scholar is a project developed at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, released in November 2015. It is des

    • True. If for example I want to know what xyzzy is, I get the answer from wikipedia. Whereas a general search would turn up a hundred 10 minute long videos on the subject, a hundred pages to claim to get me the best value in my area, 33 threads where the same question was asked but no one ever answered, and a stackoverflow page with the wrong answer.

      I don't need to research further most of the time.

  • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @12:01PM (#56279783) Homepage Journal

    A lot of times the Wikipedia website is more clear and direct than the web site of whichever product I want to find out about.

    I see a reference to the "Widget" product and want to find out more about it. The Widget.com website shows train tracks leading into the distance and the text "It's a new synergy of productivity" or some such.

    The Wikipedia page for "Widget" is direct and explicit on the first line: Widget is a software package that does *this*...

    • Sometimes wikipedia fails. But then so do all the competing pages. I wanted to know what VSTS was. Wikipedia was amazingly obscure. Then I went to the Microsoft page and it was even more obscure and cagey about what it was. Usually a technical question is clear on Wikipedia, so I suspect that Microsoft marketing was allowed to write their own page for it.

  • I always look at the Wikipedia articles which are in the area where I am currently travel or live. I use for the is this web-application: http://ausleuchtung.ch/geo_wik... [ausleuchtung.ch]

    Just click on the map and it shows articles in the radius of 10 km. It is possible to select the Wikipedia language in this web-application, I mean it works not only for English (en), but also for French (fr), Russian (ru), German (de), Ukrainian (uk), Chinese (zh), etc.
  • by HalAtWork ( 926717 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @01:54PM (#56280239)

    Because it's direct and without pretense or preamble, offers references and citations, lets you understand the context by letting you branch out to relevant topics, and they're not trying to sell me anything.

  • I'm rather surprised to see no one had posted this already: https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/t [xkcd.com]... [xkcd.com]

    I will not be surprised to learn someone actually already has posted it, and that my searches on /. are no more efficient than those I make on wikipedia.

  • I rarely go to a second page on wikipedia. I frequently hit 12+ more pages hitting TV Tropes.

Ya'll hear about the geometer who went to the beach to catch some rays and became a tangent ?

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