Orphan Articles: The Dark Matter of Wikipedia


  • Akhil Arora EPFL
  • Robert West EPFL
  • Martin Gerlach Wikimedia Foundation




With 60M articles in more than 300 language versions, Wikipedia is the largest platform for open and freely accessible knowledge. While the available content has been growing continuously at a rate of around 200K new articles each month, very little attention has been paid to the discoverability of the content. One crucial aspect of discoverability is the integration of hyperlinks into the network so the articles are visible to readers navigating Wikipedia. To understand this phenomenon, we conduct the first systematic study of orphan articles, which are articles without any incoming links from other Wikipedia articles, across 319 different language versions of Wikipedia. We find that a surprisingly large extent of content, roughly 15% (8.8M) of all articles, is de facto invisible to readers navigating Wikipedia, and thus, rightfully term orphan articles as the dark matter of Wikipedia. We also provide causal evidence through a quasi-experiment that adding new incoming links to orphans (de-orphanization) leads to a statistically significant increase in their visibility in terms of the number of pageviews. We further highlight the challenges faced by editors for de-orphanizing articles, demonstrate the need to support them in addressing this issue, and provide potential solutions for developing automated tools based on cross-lingual approaches. Overall, our work not only unravels a key limitation in the link structure of Wikipedia and quantitatively assesses its impact but also provides a new perspective on the challenges of maintenance associated with content creation at scale in Wikipedia.




How to Cite

Arora, A., West, R., & Gerlach, M. (2024). Orphan Articles: The Dark Matter of Wikipedia. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 18(1), 100-112. https://doi.org/10.1609/icwsm.v18i1.31300