I’ll have Wikipedia and chips, please

Wonderful story in The Register about Jimmy Wales’s explanation for the popularity of Wikipedia in Chinese restaurants.

Wales also dropped some fascinating vignettes about the online encyclopedia. The organization was banned in China until the Beijing Olympics, and is still not as popular with local internet users as it is in the rest of the world. But the name has started cropping up on local restaurant menus.

He showed images sent in of menus listing beef brisket with Wikipedia, stir fried Wikipedia with peppers, steamed eggs with Wikipedia, and even a bread company that takes its name from the site. The Chinese Wikipedia editors are mystified by this, but Wales suggested a hypothesis.

“What we figured out was that just around the time of the Beijing Olympics a lot of restaurants were expecting millions of foreigners to flood into the county for the first time,” he said. “Restaurants that wouldn’t normally see foreigners decided to translate their menus and if you type almost anything into a search engine what’s the first thing that comes up? Wikipedia.”

Wales also showed off some country statistics that raised a few chuckles. The most popular type of category for Wikipedia articles in Japanese is pop culture information, he said, which given the country’s documented obsession with such matters is unsurprising.

But in German the most popular topic is geography, which raised a smattering of chuckles from those who know their 20th Century history. In France, one of the least popular categories was sex, which Wales attributed to the fact that the population spent more time actually having sex and so was less inclined to read about it.

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