Quantifying Engagement with Citations on Wikipedia


Wikipedia is one of the most visited sites on the Web and a common source of information for many users. As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia was not conceived as a source of original information, but as a gateway to secondary sources: according to Wikipedia’s guidelines, facts must be backed up by reliable sources that reflect the full spectrum of views on the topic. Although citations lie at the heart of Wikipedia, little is known about how users interact with them. To close this gap, we built client-side instrumentation for logging all interactions with links leading from English Wikipedia articles to cited references during one month, and conducted the first analysis of readers’ interactions with citations. We find that overall engagement with citations is low: about one in 300 page views results in a reference click (0.29% overall; 0.56% on desktop; 0.13% on mobile). Matched observational studies of the factors associated with reference clicking reveal that clicks occur more frequently on shorter pages and on pages of lower quality, suggesting that references are consulted more commonly when Wikipedia itself does not contain the information sought by the user. Moreover, we observe that recent content, open access sources, and references about life events (births, deaths, marriages, etc.) are particularly popular. Taken together, our findings deepen our understanding of Wikipedia’s role in a global information economy where reliability is ever less certain, and source attribution ever more vital.

WWW 2020