The Most Influential People Ever, According to Wikipedia

Measuring the influence of people is no easy task, but researchers from the University of Toulouse have given it a damn good try by mining the pages of Wikipedia. The results may surprise you.

A team led by Young-Ho Eom has used the Google PageRank algorithm and applied it to the Wikipedia corpus. That code is used by Google to measure incoming links to a web page, as a surrogate for how important they are. So, in a similar way, it's been used on Wikipedia to measure how important people are.

The team applied the algorithm over 24 separate language editions of Wikipedia to identify the most influential—or heavily linked—individuals throughout history. In the English languages version, the result show that the three most influential individuals are Napoleon, Barack Obama and Carl Linnaeus, in that order.

If that final name doesn't mean much to you, he's the guy who invented the scientific naming scheme for plants and animals—and you definitely should know him. Because, analyzing across all the language variations of the site, he's been crowned the most influential person in history. Why? Well, there are so many Wikipedia pages with scientific names in every edition, irrespective of language—hence his sway.

The results, published on arXiv, also show that the most influential people were born after the 17th centur. But there are some notable spikes before that data—ancient Greek scholars, Roman leaders and Christian figures, as you might expect.

It's not, of course, foolproof. There are many ways to rank influence, and this is just one. Analysis using 2DRank, which measures ingoing and outgoing links, lists Adolf Hitler, Michael Jackson and Madonna as the most important across all languages. But it's arguable that ingoing links alone are a better yardstick of influence.Either way, it's a fun analysis. And a good reminder to celebrate the work of Carl Linnaeus. [arXiv via New Scientist]

Image by Kristina Alexanderson under Creative Commons license.