Now, the headline finding of the report is that “36% or Americans consult Wikipedia”. But that’s not a very useful figure, since the question put to people was simply: “Do you ever use the internet to look for information on Wikipedia?” No time frame is given, so those who answered in the affirmative may have only used the site once, for all we know.
So, I’ll stick with the 8% figure which is at least tied to a day during the winter of 2007. The chart above is also tied to a specific period, the week of March 17, and shows that in the Hitwise educational and reference category, Wikipedia led all other sites by quite a margin on market share of visits:
Hitwise data suggest several reasons for the popularity of Wikipedia: First, there is the sheer amount of material on the site, covering everything from ancient history to current events and popular culture. Because authors can create and edit entries at any time and in any location, new entries about emerging tech terms, celebrities or political scandals can be published or updated within a matter of minutes. In total, Wikipedia claims over 5.3 million entries, 1.6 million of them in English.
Second, Wikipedia’s dramatic growth is strongly correlated with Americans’ affection for search engines. Over 70% of the visits to Wikipedia in the week ending March 17 came from search engines, according to Hitwise data.
Wikipedia’s article structure helps explain this. Many of the pieces in the encyclopedia are full of links to other Wikipedia articles and other material on the Web. One of the prime factors in Google’s search results algorithm is the number of links connected to a given webpage. Thus, Wikipedia’s culture of encouraging internal and external links gives Wikipedia material a shot at very high Google rankings on many keyword queries.
In fact, Wikipedia has become the #1 external site visited after Google’s search page, receiving over half of its traffic from the search engine.