One measure of influence is how much people have to say about something. There are many books and films about Jesus, World War II, and computers. That’s because these are influential topics that people care passionately about. Keeping this definition of influence in mind, an objective measure of influence for any topic can be how much is written about it.
Wikipedia is a free Internet encyclopedia that anyone can edit. A simple way to measure influence is to look up a topic on Wikipedia and see how long the article is. For example, the Wikipedia entry for Abraham Lincoln is much longer than the entry for Millard Fillmore, though both were U.S. presidents. Abraham Lincoln was merely more influential and more famous than Millard Fillmore.
There are a few caveats to keep in mind though. The entry for Barack Obama is longer than the one for Abraham Lincoln. It is a recency bias. Barack Obama might not be a more influential person than Abraham Lincoln, but he is more recent and people have more to say about him at this moment. If we can look up Barack Obama’s Wikipedia page 150 years from now, the article length may be much different.
Also, all Wikipedia articles are not created equal. List entries tend to be very long, like the massive List of United States counties and county equivalents. There are also long data listings like 1918 Birthday Honours. Timeline entries like Timeline of Baltimore can also get very long. Then there are world surveys on a topic, like Electric car use by country. I don’t look at these types of entries when determining influence.
So what’s the quickest way to find the length of an article? This is what I do. Open the article in Wikipedia, then press the “Page Down” key on your keyboard until you reach the end of the article. Count how many times you paged down.
One more caveat. Don’t page down all the way to the end of the entry. Page down only until you get to the “See Also,” “Notes,” “Bibliography,” or similar non-article text. There are some articles like Conditional preservation of the saints that are 49 page-downs in length, but only 14 if you don’t include the endnotes.
Here are the longest 10 Wikipedia articles I could find, with the number of page-downs to the endnotes in parentheses.
- South African labour law (91)
- Clavier-Übung III (57)
- East Turkestan independence movement (39)
- Plug-in electric vehicle (36)
- Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (34)
- India–European Union relations (32)
- Syrian Civil War (29)
- Miscegenation (28)
- Nuclear program of Iran (26)
- Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen (26)
Not very useful is it? The list is dominated by politics and law, with recency bias written all over it. Well, it gets much more interesting when you start comparing things.
The last 5 U.S. presidents:
- Donald Trump (38)
- Barack Obama (33)
- George W. Bush (33)
- Ronald Reagan (32)
- Bill Clinton (25)
- George H. W. Bush (21)
Biggest 5 companies in the world
Richest 5 people in the world
Biggest 5 websites
You get the idea. When you compare narrow topics of Wikipedia entries, you can get a sense of which ones are the most influential players within the topic. The margin of error seems to be about 4, meaning that it’s inconclusive whether Warren Buffett is more influential than Bill Gates or Carlos Slim, but he is definitely more influential than Larry Ellison and Amancio Ortega Gaona.