Analyzing disparities of Wikipedia articles in different language versions: What’s different and why?

Article comparison between the German & English version of the Wikipedia article about the German government

The task of our university seminar was to compare two Wikipedia (WP) articles about the same topic, but of different languages, concerning site content, structure and activity. While looking for a topic I found out that very often there is a difference in the size of articles concerning their content, which turned out to be mostly language-based. Since I was looking for articles about political topics, the difference in length especially correlated with the country the topic of the article referred to. When comparing the term “Reagonomics” on the German and English WP, for example, the length issue turned out to be very obvious. While the German WP article about Reaganomics comprised only about 413 words, the English article comprised 3,931 words. It was the same with most other political articles I found on WP.

Looking similar, but are they?

However, I wanted to find a topic where the two different versions were not so obviously different at first sight. Finally I found one, where the imbalance in length between the German and the English version was only slight. Therefore I decided to compare the WP articles about the “Bundesregierung (Deutschland)” / Cabinet of Germany. The German WP version “Bundesregierung” contains 1,007 words, whereas the English version contains 739 words. The two articles are no one-to-one translation, even though the contentual difference between both is only slight. That is why my analysis should go beyond the surface of the articles: Therefore, the first difference I figured out, is that the German article was published earlier, namely on August 6, 2002, whereas an English WP article about the German government had not existed until December 26, 2004. Surprising for me was that the latest revision has been made in the English, and not the German version. However, this is probably due to the higher overall activity in the English WP version. I will take a closer look at this point in the last paragraph of this essay.

Site versions & views

Subsequently, I compared some statistics about the articles. At this point I revealed larger disparities than on the contentual level: First of all, there exist 1,341 versions of the German article, but only 211 of the English one. Also the numbers of the total authors differ strongly between 723 for the German version and 211 for the English one. This leads to the result that the English version tends to be revised only about 22 times a year, whereas the German version is changed about 110 times a year. Furthermore, there are 377 links that lead to the English version, but 1,910 links that lead to the German one. Here, however, another interesting statistic comes into play- namely how many times a page is viewed. The statistic shows a difference: while the German version was viewed only 1,730 times in October 2014, the English version was viewed 3,717 times during this period. This difference also applies to the overall views, with the only exception of the period when there is a federal election, like in September 2013, when the topic is mainly of current national interest.

More views, more popular?

In conclusion it can be stated that even if the length, volume and content of two articles may not show a big difference at first sight, the activity behind it can differ much more than it seems. This, however, does not automatically affect the number of views, which are most likely rather dependent on the number of users of the WP version. Since the worldwide English speaking population and therefore the potential users of the English WP version is tremendously higher than their German counterparts, site views can not be considered to be representative concerning the analysis of the popularity of an article or site. Statistics support this assumption: While there existed 4.7 million articles in the English WP version in October 2014, ‘only’ 1.7 million of them existed in the German WP version. When regarding the hourly views of both versions it can be differentiated even more. Whereas about 8.5 million people access the English WP site every hour (in October 2014), only about 1.1 million do so with the German WP version. It is therefore quite likely that also the users of other languages than English and German tend to use the English rather than the German WP site, since it is known to have a larger content and it is updated more often than WP sites of other languages.

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