Dispatches: Historic election proves groundbreaking on the Main Page
On November 4, 2008, Wikipedia made its own contribution to history by displaying two Featured articles (FA) as Today's featured article (TFA) on the main page. Moreover, for the first time, one of these articles had previously been featured on the main page. The articles represented the two major candidates—Barack Obama and John McCain—in the 2008 United States Presidential Election.
Both presidential candidates become featured articles
The Barack Obama article was brought to featured status by User:Meelar in August 2004; this version appeared on the main page on August 18, 2004. Since then User:HailFire, User:Tvoz and User:Bobblehead have become the major contributors to the article. The article has retained featured status for four years; this status was reaffirmed at four separate Featured article reviews: January 2007, July 2007, April 2008 and September 2008. As Obama's presidential campaign gained strength in 2008, editing conditions at the page deteriorated. Several threads were launched at the Administrators' noticeboards to complain of edit warring, personal attacks, incivility, and assumptions of bad faith. In July 2008, a proposal that Obama-related pages be placed on article probation was made; the proposal was quickly approved and endorsed several days later. Three days after the election, the article was again nominated for a review.
In March 2008, the article on John McCain was prematurely nominated for Featured Article status by an editor who had not previously worked on the article. That nomination failed, but User:Ferrylodge and User:Wasted Time R continued to work to improve the article. Ferrylodge renominated it in August 2008 and it was promoted without any opposition. By November 2008, Ferrylodge had added about 1,000 edits to the article and Wasted Time R had contributed an additional 500 to his 450 edits at the time of the first Featured article candidacy.
Main page discussion
On October 27, User:Remember initiated a discussion at the talk page of Today's Featured Article/Requests (TFA/R) on whether to highlight the articles of the two primary U.S. presidential candidates. The original proposal would have placed the election winner's article on the main page on November 5, and the other candidate's article on the main page on November 6. Other editors were opposed to the proposal for various reasons, including the uncertainty of knowing the winner's identity at midnight (UTC) on November 5 and that having the two articles on consecutive days would be too US-centric. Remember then proposed an alternate solution—have both articles featured on election day. User:SandyGeorgia moved the proposal to TFA/R on October 30 as an Ignore all rules (IAR) request to solicit more opinions. A lively discussion (archived here) ensued. Among the concerns were:
- potential for vandalism,
- bias against third-party candidates,
- Barack Obama had already been featured on the main page,
- the precedent of having two FAs on the main page would encourage future requests for two or three articles to be featured simultaneously,
- potential conflict with the In the News (ITN) section of the main page, and
- too US-centric.
After more spirited discussion, by November 3, the proposal had 28 supports and 12 opposes. FA Director and TFA Coordinator User:Raul654 agreed to run the unprecedented double TFA and to repeat a TFA which had already run on the mainpage, saying:
Ok, so as I read this, ITN isn't going to do anything with the election until after midnight UTC. If that's the case, my largest worry is alleviated. My second worry is setting precedents with regard to featuring (A) two articles at once, or (B) featuring articles on the main page a second time, remain. However, I think this can be dealt with by me saying, here and now, that this is an extremely unusual thing that I have absolutely no intention or desire to repeat in the future. Does that satisfy everyone? Raul654 (talk) 22:06, 3 November 2008 (UTC)
Independently of the Today's Featured Article discussion, editors at the Administrator's noticeboard discussed what level of protection the articles should be given as the election approached. With the election cycle nearing a close, vandalism and POV-pushing on these articles made it hard for the regular editors to keep the pages at a state that followed Wikipedia's core policies, including the policy on biographies of living people. On October 29, full protection for both the Obama and McCain articles through November 5, the day after the election, as well as the articles on their vice-presidential nominees Joe Biden and Sarah Palin was proposed. Several dozen editors joined the discussion, and after a brief period of full protection, the articles were semi-protected until election day with the understanding that full protection would be enabled on election day.
Overall, however, response to the double TFA was very positive. Raul654 was lauded for his boldness in choosing to run a double TFA, and for ignoring all the rules to feature the Obama article a second time. Many liked the format as an unbiased way to acknowledge the United States presidential election. User:JayHenry remarked that "I'm mostly happy that we tried something outside the box. The outside the box idea that gets implemented is an increasingly endangered species on Wikipedia." Among those offering kudos on Raul654's talk page were User:maclean25, who awarded Raul a special "Tightrope Award", and User:Fvasconcellos, who posted:
You have my instant respect, for what it's worth :) IAR was made for this. This, and the reasoning and process behind it, is the Wikipedia I love, the Wikipedia I signed up for, etc. etc. Thanks. Fvasconcellos 01:54, 4 November 2008 (UTC)
Election day statistics
Throughout the day on November 4, the Obama and McCain articles remained in the top five most popular articles on Wikipedia. For much of the day, the Obama article was the most popular, and received, on average, almost twice as many visitors as the McCain article. In the last 90 minutes of the day (from 4 Nov 23:05 UTC until 5 Nov 00:38 UTC), there were over 210,000 searches for "Barack Obama" (not including any redirects).
In total, while the articles were featured on the Main page, Obama's article (including redirects) received about 728,000 hits, and McCain's article (including redirects), received about 365,000 hits. Together, they received over 1 million hits. In comparison, the TFA for November 3, Delhi, received about 130,000 hits while it was on the main page.
- Raul654 comment at TFA/R
- JayHenry comment at Talk:Main Page
- Fvasconcellos comment at User talk:Raul654
- The average number of hourly visitors to "Barack Obama" from 3 Nov 23:00 through 4 Nov 23:00 was 28,248; for "John McCain", the average was 14,493. See history for Template:Popular articles
- Notes on election traffic statistics
- Cohen, Noam (November 9, 2008). "Updating a Reference Site on the Fly". The New York Times.
- Goad, Robin (November 4, 2008). "Analysis: UK Internet Searches for the US Election". DigitalMediaWire.
- Kharif, Olga (November 3, 2008). "Election Day Plays Out on the Social Web". Business Week.
- Lang, Derrik J. "Virtual world celebrates Obama's win". Associated Press. (Referencing this edit.)
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