Jump to content

Wikimedia Foundation/Communications/Research/Global market and audience research (2020)

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki

A global market and audience research study was conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation's Communications department in 2020. The study provided a holistic view of the challenges our movement faces in implementing the 2030 movement strategy. These included:

  • As a percentage of the global population, we are losing readers
  • That brand awareness of Wikipedia is declining in geographic areas where we have traditionally been strong
  • That Wikipedia's text-heavy display, mobile experience, and lack of in-language content in many languages is helping to drive these trends
  • A clear and large majority of places where we can find new readers is outside our traditional geographies

You can learn more about the project's outcomes, background, and how we conducted it below. For questions, please reach out on the talk page.

Project background[edit]

In a bid to grasp a better understanding of the global market and audience framework in which Wikipedia and the other projects of the Wikimedia Foundations supports, the Insights team within the Communications department instituted and carried out a global market survey in 2020,  which was aimed at supporting the MTP Worldwide Readership goal. The research provides the information necessary to help the Wikimedia  Foundation chart a course to becoming the infrastructure of free knowledge through growing participation globally, focusing on emerging markets, and modernizing our product experience.

The research was designed to answer several questions we had about how we play in a global market and how our audiences engage with our platform. Among such questions were:

  • Which markets provide the strongest potential, which markets we should protect, and which markets we should focus on developing?
  • What does the competitive outlook for Wikipedia look like in each market, and what are the existing barriers for Wikipedia and the free knowledge movement's  success in each market.
  • What is the level of awareness of Wikipedia and the Foundation's movement?
  • Who are our audiences and what do they look like (demographics, psychographics)?
  • How is the internet used vis-a-vis how our audiences use and navigate Wikipedia?
  • What are the language and communication preferences of our audiences, and what are the popular social and digital channels we can reach them on?
  • What is the level of potential to engage with Wikipedia and the free knowledge movement, and what are their motivations for using the platform/website (learning, humor, celebrity, news, etc.)?
  • What are the differentials in desire for content by type (news, education, history, current, trends, etc.) and formats (text, video, snackable, photos, videos, etc.)?
  • How willing are users to edit and create articles in Wikipedia?
  • What is the donation potential to the Wikimedia Foundation, and which non-profits do donors donate to?


The research was done in 3 phases:

  1. Quantitative data gathering: We started with 180+ countries as the baseline for the readership growth market modeling, which was a global statistical data analysis from 183 countries
  2. Qualitative data gathering: We conducted further qualitative audience research on 10 regional markets, mainly through surveys and Interviews in Argentina, Brazil, USA, Germany, Nigeria, South Africa, UAE, India, Indonesia, and South Korea.
  3. Extrapolation: We extrapolated the audience insights from the research for the 170+ remaining countries to complete the growth market model.

Other details in our methodological approach are as follows:

  • The choice of the markets were based on a predictive modeling approach we used to rank countries by new readership contribution and growth potential and to achieve a global view. We first collected data across 183 countries, covering
    • Wikipedia stats: Unique devices, pageviews, editor numbers, and installs/downloads.
    • External data: Population & sub-populations, literacy & education, technology infrastructure, government openness/liberalism, economy, availability of information, Wikipedia awareness
  • We converted Wikipedia unique devices into estimated readership for each country, using an assumption that as device penetration increased over a tipping point, readership penetration growth would slow (never reaching over 100%)
  • We used a number of different modeling techniques to explore & predict readership opportunity in each market (final readership opportunity estimates were built using a predictive technique known as "k-nearest neighbor"). Key predictors of Wikipedia readership included: Broadband & mobile penetration, literacy rates, participation in tertiary education, size of the service sector, and press freedom
  • The model ranked countries by total number of new readers each would be expected to provide, given market conditions. This ranking was then used to inform the Wikimedia Foundation's strategic focus

Outcomes of the study[edit]

At the end of the research, we were able to:

  • Have a clear understanding of our market potential worldwide for Wikipedia and the Foundation's free knowledge movement.
  • Have accurate sizing of the global market to assign measurable growth goals.
  • Have a deep understanding of the market barriers and competitive landscape to assess potential impact and risk.
  • Understand each market's key audiences, segmentation, motivators, demographics, infographics, and desire to use and edit Wikipedia, and support the Foundation.
  • Know which channels each audience prefers to communicate in, their favorite social sites, and how they like to consume content.
  • Understand each audience segment's appetite to learn, document events accurately and donate to the free knowledge movement.

Key findings from stage 1 (quantitative modeling)[edit]

From the first iteration, we observed the following:

1. We have reached the top of our growth curve in what we would call our ideal markets, particularly in terms of growth potential.  These are easily attainable markets based on population growth, current Wikipedia readership, digital infrastructure, freedom of expression and government regulation. The top 20 countries in these markets are: the United States, Indonesia, Qatar, Brazil, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Argentina, the UAE, Uzbekistan, Oman, South Africa, Australia, Jordan, Chile, Spain, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Canada, and India. These markets are characterized by:

  • Population growth between the ages 15-38
  • Strong freedom of speech and expression
  • Solid financial situation, economic outlook, and employment rate for donating
  • Sound digital infrastructure with high broadband and mobile subscriptions and social media usage
  • High educational attainment and literacy rates
  • Above average spending in education, the arts, cultural events, and a high world giving index
  • High potential for Wikipedia readership growth

2. The opportunity for significant growth is in more challenging markets, which are those with significant readership growth potential that did not rank high in the model due to low scores associated with strict government regulation, unequal distribution of digital infrastructure and internet access, below average education attainment or other.  Top 20 in these markets are: China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, DR Congo, Egypt, Thailand, Philippines, Turkey, Tanzania, Mexico, Myanmar, Iran, Uganda, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Algeria, and Russia. Key features of these markets are

  • Significant growth opportunity in readership
  • Below average rating in freedom of speech and expression
  • Emerging financial situation, average economic outlook, and low-average labour participation
  • Unequal distribution of digital infrastructure (urban vs. rural vs. cities)
  • Moderate number of mobile subscriptions and social media usage
  • Low educational attainment
  • Above average literacy rates

3. By looking at the numbers, we observed that the top 5 significant markets equal 70% of our growth potential (approximately 1.5 billion), whereas the top 30 markets of the ideal market stand at just 14% of our growth potential (approximately 300 million).

Findings from stage 2 and 3 (qualitative research and extrapolation)[edit]

High-level findings[edit]

  1. The gap between Wikipedia readers and internet users worldwide is continuing to widen from our current gap of 67% to 73% by 2030. To narrow this gap, the Foundation should invest in challenging markets with significant growth, provide rich media, snackable content formats, and focus on the mobile experience.
  2. Brand awareness is declining in strong markets and awareness is low where growth resides.  Our biggest opportunity exists with developing localized content and displaying content in a user-friendly mobile experience.
  3. Lapsed, current and future readers tell us that the large amount of text, lack of visuals, number of links, lack of in-language content and current mobile experience are driving  the gap.

Additional insights[edit]

Market divisions and definitions
Challenging Ideal
Create market Digitally and economically developed, with high literacy rate, but average Wikipedia awareness and brand perception. Protect market Digitally and economically developed, with high literacy rate, and significant Wikipedia awareness, yet varied perception on quality.
Build market Emerging economy with low digital infrastructural development (primarily mobile use), curious and knowledge seeking audience, with low Wikipedia awareness. Expand market Low internet usage but growing digital economy, educated population, with need for improved mobile experience.


In addition to the above touchpoints, we uncovered more insights about the global market view:

  • From the combination of the quantitative and qualitative data gathered, we were able to expand the global market into a quadrat of 4 market segments, primarily based on Wikipedia brand awareness and usage levels, structural and infrastructural development (particularly internet penetration, usage and digitalization), in-language content of content availability on Wikipedia to the audiences from these markets. The categories identified include:
    • Create markets: Markets where Wikipedia is well known, but perceived low quality and quantity of primary language content leads to some negativity. Digitally and economically developed, with high literacy rate, but average Wikipedia awareness and brand perception.
    • Protect markets: Markets where Wikipedia is well known and liked with high levels of good, local language content. Digitally and economically developed, with high literacy rate, and significant Wikipedia awareness, yet varied perception on quality.
    • Build markets: Markets where Wikipedia is not well known, and there is little perceived good quality primary language content. Emerging economy with low digital infrastructural development (primarily mobile use), curious and knowledge seeking audience, with low Wikipedia awareness.
    • Expand markets: Markets where Wikipedia is not well known, but there is a good baseline of primary language content. Low internet usage but growing digital economy, educated population, with need for improved mobile experience.

  • We were able to identify the persona of an average Wikipedia user, who we could describe as likely to be urban, university-educated male professionals with higher than average incomes in their markets. They're driven by curiosity, they like to read, and they're motivated by learning and progress. They believe in the importance of knowledge for freedom and global progress.

  • By critically triangulating the data we gathered across the market segments, we were able to determine how to maximize growth from each of the market categories:
    • In protect markets, there is a significant growth potential to be found among women. In markets we've researched, there were about 130 million women who were lapsed or non-readers.
    • Wikipedia has a low brand reputation in create markets due to perceived inadequacies in local language content. Similar to protect markets, our growth in 'create markets will largely come from urban working class individuals who value knowledge as a notion of freedom.
    • In expand markets where internet usage is low but growing, growth will come from educated young urban professionals. These are early adopters with the propensity to read Wikipedia.
    • Build markets are where our long-term growth will come from. These individuals will primarily be found outside the core of a higher-educated, curious knowledge-seeking audience. Younger people from outside major urbanized areas will primarily access the internet on mobile devices.

  • We also identified three opportunity areas that can attract the next generation of Wikipedia readers, namely:
    • Making Wikipedia easier to understand: The language used can impact ease of use, as most people read in their preferred language.
    • Keeping Wikipedia relevant through content people want: Increasing content relevance will give lapsed (and non-) users reasons to return, as well as meet people's varied knowledge needs.
    • Improving the navigation experience: Readers, especially in emerging markets, want an improved visual experience and more multimedia-based content.

  • From our investigation on how Wikipedia readers use the platform, we observed some interesting points:
    • We are still highly dependent on search engines, as a large majority of our users tend to engage with the website from search queries that land them on Wikipedia.
    • Access is primarily through mobile devices, particularly in the emerging markets of build and expand categories.
    • Improving the mobile navigation experience is paramount, as users pointed out concerns on use and and navigation on mobile to include but not limited to:
      • Lengthy paragraphs are difficult to read on mobile
      • Limited and less impactful images compared to typical mobile expectations
      • Lack of navigation/ menu bar makes content overwhelming
      • Tables are designed for desktop and hard to read on mobile
      • Aesthetically flat, limited use of colour, and excess of links make Wikipedia less accessible and engaging on mobile.