What Wikipedia’s Top Articles of 2023 Tell Us About the World

Nick Hilton
8 min readFeb 2, 2024


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Regular readers of this blog will know that I am fairly obsessed with Wikipedia. It stands alone in the desert of the internet — a desert getting hotter and less hospitable by the minute — as a testament to the generous disposition of humanity. It is a good thing: full of the same flaws as humans ourselves, but born of a benign sense of purpose. It feels like a relic from a previous time…

This week, Wikipedia released its list of the most read articles of 2023 and I want to use that as a framework for asking what it tells us about the internet of today. After all, Wikipedia represents an anonymised curiosity. There is no public element to it, no sense of performance, whether that’s virtue or vice signalling. It is not communal but solitary. Just as PornHub’s list of popular search terms tells us a disturbing amount about the world’s sexual proclivities, so too do Wikipedia’s search results serve as a sort-of psychic examination, a collective bill of health. So here, in reverse order of popularity, are Wikipedia’s Top 5 Most Popular Articles of 2023 (and some tenuous trends that I have extrapolated therefrom).

In fifth place… Oppenheimer (film).

That’s right, the film — not the man. People came away from watching Christopher Nolan’s epic, the fifth highest grossing film of 2023, and searched for the film. Not the man. Either way, it is an interesting arrival in the top 5, beating out its rival for summer box office supremacy, Barbie (which finished in 14th place). Even though I personally found the film a bit choppy and unsatisfying (not that anyone cares) Oppenheimer has proven a fantastically uncommercial commercial hit. Flanked in the box office charts by dross like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Little Mermaid, it was a rare victory for adult filmmaking. An R-rated historical epic about a bunch of nuclear scientists would seem, on paper, an implausible billion-dollar movie.

But Oppenheimer (film) understood human curiosity. Who would you find on sixth place in the list? Well well well, if it’s J.Robert Oppenheimer himself. In the world that we live in, it is a salient reminder that people want to understand the past and its role in the present. Oppenheimer out-performed all reasonable box office expectations because, yes, it had a famous director who brought along a legion of fans and guaranteed multiplexes would book the film on multiple screens. But it also piqued the collective curiosity. Oppenheimer, the man, is a figure hitherto on the murky edges of public consciousness. Combining classic popcorn entertainment with education — both historical and scientific; double whammy — is a good model for making a return on cinema releases without relying on superheroes or plastic dolls.

Up next, in fourth place… the Indian Premier League

I’m going to group this together with the bronze medal entry for reasons that will become clear after the drumroll… *drumroll*… the 2023 Cricket World Cup.

There was a fascinating story back in the spring of 2023 where Disney+, the House of Mouse’s lavish streaming service, found itself haemorrhaging subscribers. What could cause a single platform to lose 4m users in the space of a few weeks? The answer, it turned out, was simple: Disney+ had lost the rights to stream Indian Premier League cricket matches.

Cricket is a deeply unsexy sport. Here in its ancestral home, England, it plays second (or third) fiddle to the international monolith that is football. And yet, back in 2022, a World Cup year for football, the Qatar edition of that tournament scored 46,794,250 page views (also giving it a third-place finish in the end of year tally). The 2023 World Cup for cricket (a sport considered by many, especially in America, to not be within touching distance of football) achieved 38,723,498 views. That’s less — duh — but not much less.

Cricket is huge because India is huge. It is now the world’s most populous country, stealthily taking that title from China last year. And compared with its neighbour — and fellow population billionaire — it has a free and open media. The inevitable anglocentricity of media discourse in the US and UK means that the world’s largest addressable market is often elided from conversations about the direction of travel in entertainment, media and technology, but we do that at our peril. These two pages — the Indian Premier League and 2023 Cricket World Cup — beat out the Premier League and Cristiano Ronaldo in the sporting stakes.

And this is Wikipedia’s English-language edition. It is said (on Wikipedia) that 0.02% of Indians speak English natively, which means 259,678 people. But it is second only to Hindi in the second language stakes, with 83,125,221 speaking English in addition to their mother tongue. This makes it, by some metrics, the second biggest English-speaking country in the world, after the USA. There’s a line in Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network script where someone tells Mark Zuckerberg that the internet is not “written in pencil, it’s written in ink”. Well, it’s also written in English. Even with an increasing diversity of voices and languages populating the recesses of the web, the soft power impact of the English language is huge. Whether it’s YouTubers — the biggest and most lucrative channels tend to broadcast in English — or knowledge repositories — the English Wikipedia has 6.8m articles, while Arabic Wiki has 1.2m — the foundations of the internet are still English-language. The Hindi Wikipedia, representing the 4th most spoken language in the world, only has 160k articles in it.

It’s a big world out there, and not one that homogeneously falls behind any single narrative. Cricket is a slow sport, one that rewards analysis and research, and one primed for data extraction. It is not a frenetic, mano a mano sport like boxing or tennis, but something for nerds. Nerd culture has always over-performed on the internet, and cricket is, perhaps, where that intersects with sport.

Our runner-up… Deaths in 2023.

There is perhaps nothing more important to understanding the collective psychology of the internet than coming to terms with its morbidity. Last year’s most read article was on the cannibal serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer (he beat Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into second position).

It is not a novel observation to say that the internet is a dark place. But putting aside the performative abuse and grotesquery, there’s also something about the way that people feel liberated to indulge negative thoughts. It’s like picking at a scab. Pick, pick, pick. Remind ourselves that oblivion awaits. The Wikipedia pages for John Wayne Gacy and Adolf Hitler and Josef Fritzl have long been amongst the best performing on the site, but this is no different to the predominance of true crime in podcast-world or on Netflix. It’s why The Zone of Interest has been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and why stalker drama You was one of Netflix’s most watched shows of 2023.

The question is whether, and when, this metastasises into something that turns the internet from a scab being picked to an open wound. There is an increasing tendency to view the internet as a private domain, where activities don’t really count and don’t really matter. Which is sort of fine: if I spend 10 minutes a day reading Ted Bundy’s Wikipedia page, that’s unlikely to do me lasting psychological harm. But, for a lot of people, the morbid tendency stretches beyond that: they spend hours every day wishing death upon strangers on the internet, hurling abuse via social media and email and blog posts. For a lot of people, the internet is not an auxiliary social structure, but the primary one. If you are spending more of your waking hours ‘online’ than ‘offline’ you need to do everything you can to ensure that it’s a healthy environment.

Moralising over. Another reason that deaths score so highly is that it fulfils the short-term nostalgia quotient. “Oh yes,” they’ll think, “I remember hearing about Sylvia Syms dying in January 2023.” Which, in turn, unlocks the nostalgia of watching Ice Cold in Alex, as a lad, on the carpeted floor of your grandparents suburban townhouse in Teddington. See, it’s not all so bleak?

And finally, the top place goes to… ChatGPT!

What more can be said about ChatGPT, OpenAI’s chatbot that took the world by storm last year?

Well, what I will say is two things. Firstly, Wikipedia is often used as a way of parsing, at a slower pace, the big news stories flying around the media without adequate context or explanation. Millions of people will have come to the ChatGPT article because they’re hearing frenzied news stories about it, its impact and implications, and they don’t really know what it is. Who owns it? What does GPT stand for? How does it work? These are the sort of explanatory questions that could only be skimmed over on Good Morning America or the Today Programme, but which Wikipedia can help to answer (and do so at a non-college reading level). So it is a way of disentangling news stories from their own quagmire of journalese.

Secondly, ChatGPT somewhat resembles Bitcoin (another consistently high-performing Wikipedia article) in the tendency of its evangelists not to do very extensive research. Because that’s what Wikipedia is: a synthesised entry point to understanding a subject. Anyone with an interest in Artificial Intelligence — a serious interest, that is — will find much more exhaustive materials elsewhere on the internet, or even at their nearest reference library. But AI tools like ChatGPT and DALL.E are, in large part, for the lazy. People who think that writing a prompt is the same act of creation as sweating over your oil paints for weeks, or sitting down in a dressing gown and underwear to write a Substack, are the sort of people who would be satisfied by a 2,000 words article on a subject. It is a pervasive mindset on the modern internet. Do the least amount of work you can possibly do in order to call yourself an expert. Use ChatGPT, read the ChatGPT Wiki page, and you can call yourself an expert, even if you couldn’t get under the hood of the technology, and haven’t intellectually scrutinised the implications.

All the same, the ChatGPT article of Wikipedia is brilliant. Vast, ambitious, and well-sourced. It is a reminder of Wikipedia as one of the last bastions against the automation of knowledge. On the “Talk” section of the article, where Editors can discuss potential changes or debate the content as it currently stands, there are a couple of staff notes that warm my heart. “This page is not a forum for general discussion about ChatGPT,” a top line reads. And then, next to that, another says: This WP:TALK page is semi-protected due an unmanageable torrent of edits from people who think this is where you may ask ChatGPT a question. It is not.”

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Nick Hilton

Writer. Media entrepreneur. London. Interested in technology and the media. Co-founder podotpods.com Email: nick@podotpods.com.