The long now of Wikipedia

Past and future alike are cloudy, but the flames of memory and expectation penetrate some distance into the mists of time.  Analyzing Wikipedia, we can quantify the falloffs towards past and future and discover a long now of recollection and prediction of human events.  This anthropic frame is our island in time’s ocean.

Wikipedia contains summary articles on decades, centuries, and millennia.  The spans covered by each sort of article are as follows:

  • 390 decades from the 1690s BC to 2190s AD (1699 BC to 2199 AD)
  • 70 centuries from the 40th BC to the 30th AD (3999 BC to 2999 AD)
  • 20 millennia from the 10th BC to the 10th AD (9999 BC to 9999 AD)

How much does Wikipedia have to say about each of these intervals?  The charts below show the length of each decade, century, and millennium summary article.  The metric for length is the number of bytes in the HTML of each page and thus is exclusive of images or other media.  These data are from the English version as of January 19, 2013.

Decades: There is a significant jump beginning with the 490s BC and a spike centered on the 210s BC that is not surpassed until the 1520s AD.  A phenomenal spike in the 1620s and a lacuna from the 1840s to the 1870s catch the eye.  Looking forward, 2060 is a turning point: Wikipedia contributors have more to say about the five decades from 2060 forward than they do about the four decades preceding 2060.


Centuries: A run-up in content from the 8th to the 5th centuries BC is cut short in the 4th century BC.  A spike in the 1st century AD precedes a slow build until a blowout 11th century.  The modern period is defined by a rise from the 15th century.  The 20th century summary article is sparse, perhaps reflecting the difficulty of outlining recent history with due perspective.  The 21st century, barely 10% through, is second only to the 19th century.  The falloff going forward is smooth save a bump in the 26th century.


Millennia: History takes off in the 4th millennium BC and ramps up to the 2nd millennium AD.  Looking forward, the 5th millennium AD is a slight standout thanks to a surplus of documentation of fictional events situated then.


Interestingly, the larger the time unit, the less weighted Wikipedia is to the past in terms of article count: 5% of the decade articles, 13% of the century articles, and 35% of the millennium articles pertain to the future.

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2 thoughts on “The long now of Wikipedia

  1. » Decades, Centuries and Millennia on Wikipedia - Blog of the Long Now

  2. Weekly List Bookmarks (weekly) | Eccentric Eclectica @

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