If you use two approaches to ranking web pages — PageRank (Google-developed) and 2D Rank (which measures how many external sources cited) — and you apply those ranking systems to Wikipedia, here’s what you learn about the “most important people in history:”
In positive news, Jesus is the only figure to appear on both lists. 2D Rank seems to favor the modern times a bit more — Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Barack Obama, for example — and both lists seem to favor those who worked in science or entertainment. Here’s some more context on all that:
The quirky results reveal important biases in the algorithms. Eom thinks that Carl Linnaeus may have topped the PageRank list because he invented the scientific taxonomy for classifying plants and animals. Scientific articles that mention these plants and animals often cite him, which is why his name would be highlighted by a system that values referential linking. Musicians and artists, on the other hand, were much more popular on the 2DRank list. The reason, Eom explains, could be that their extensive citations at the bottom of the page, noting important interviews and other coverage, increased their value in an algorithm that prizes outgoing links.
Overall, across all lists, typically the top 60 figures were 17th-century white men; the lists usually only were about 10 percent female, with Elizabeth II often coming in ahead of Mary (mother of Jesus).