Why is Cleopatra constantly trending on Wikipedia?

Wikipedia traffic, which is documented daily, offers a somewhat distorted reflection of the world – the dreadful and the divine, the wonderful and the mundane.

You won’t be surprised if traffic for “Rebecca Black” picks up on Friday, or that traffic for Jesus increases steadily over Easter and Christmas. “Leap year” traffic spikes in late February (expected) but was also popular in January and February 2020, likely because that year had its own leap day – and it’s no surprise that when a public figure dies, his Wikipedia article explodes in popularity. The ever scrupulous online encyclopedia even has a page dedicated to historical traffic jumps. Kobe Bryant’s page, for example, grew nearly 100,000% the day he died and “Twerking” skyrocketed after the 2013 MTV Music Video Awards.

Although some spikes are obvious, not all of Wikipedia’s traffic patterns have an intuitive explanation. For example, the Cleopatra article exploded in pageviews starting in fall 2020 – and no one knew why. Opinions fluctuate a bit, but for the most part Cleopatra has been in the top 10 most viewed articles on the English Wikipedia for the past year and a half. It also happens on Spanish Wikipedia – in the week leading up to the 2020 election, Cleopatra got more views than Joe Biden. Last week, Cleopatra was the fourth most viewed on English Wikipedia, behind Ukrainian Anna Sorokin and Vladimir Putin.

She was an extremely well-trained ruler and lavish lover, and her life was brought to the big screen in a 1963 film which was the most expensive film ever made at the time. Cleopatra isn’t irrelevant, but is she really popular enough to drive such massive hordes of traffic to her 15,000-word encyclopedic entry?

Wikipedia editors didn’t think so. Discussions percolated to the Cleopatra article talk page, where editors discuss the article at hand, with titles like “Trending article throughout 2021” and “WHY IT’S STILL TRENDING ?!?!” Editors were mystified by the numbers, which were “exaggerated” and “definitely unnatural” according to a Wikipedia editor who goes by the name of Triggerhippie4.

Some puzzled Wikipedians have speculated that there could have been a recent historical discovery, a new TV show, or manipulation by robots, but no theory has fully grasped the problem. “Why on earth would anyone bother to increase views of this article with bots? I just don’t see any reason why anyone would bother to do that, even for a top monarch of ancient history,” wrote user PericlesofAthens. But then Wikipedia editor Castlebuilder11 stepped in with an explanation that seemed to solve the mystery.

On Android phones, one of the Google Assistant search suggestions says “Try saying ‘View Cleopatra on Wikipedia.’

Ah! – The 150,000 daily views probably aren’t all from people interested in reading the tumultuous story of a long-deceased Ptolemaic queen, but rather from people trying out Google Assistant or, in the case of at least one person, banging their phone on their leg.

Pageviews for the article “Cleopatra” on the Spanish and English Wikipedias respectively

This isn’t the first time a seemingly random traffic spike has left Wikipedians scratching their heads. Just over a year ago there was an even bigger spike in traffic for a beautiful but unremarkable photo of a flower, not because the St. Michael’s Daisy was making headlines, but because an app in India generated most of the 90 million daily views (a 20% of total queries on the entire Wikipedia Commons).

So rest assured: Cleopatra did not resurrect the problematic hieroglyphics (although she could perhaps be canceled for other things). Instead, it happens to be a default Android search. Count this slightly interesting mystery solved.

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