Wikimedia flower mystery revealed: 90 million daily visits are caused by a viral mobile app in India
It looks like one more flower, but it is not. The Symphyotrichum novi-belgii, better known as the New York aster, had become one of the great mysteries of Wikimedia.
The photo of this flower represents 20% of all requests of images that Wikimedia Commons receives. It receives about 90 million visits a day and nobody knew exactly why, although an investigation by those responsible has finally revealed the mystery.
The ghost image
The intense traffic generated by these requests ended up making the Wikimedia technical team launch an investigation to know what was happening.
The debate on what could be happening took place in Phabricator, a Wikimedia discussion forum in which some theories appeared and community suggestions.
From the beginning, the Wikimedia engineers they suspected some kind of mobile app used in India, and little by little the signs were added.
Thus, they had three things quite clear after the initial analysis. The first, that it was a social or messaging mobile application that should be very popular in India. The second, that the User-Agent and the Referrer of the requests was a simple script “-“, something that allowed us to advance in that filter to reveal the app responsible for this.
The strange thing is that a preliminary analysis of some popular apps in India failed to find any more clues. The flower was supposed to appear perhaps as an image while the rest of the interface was loading (‘splashscreen’) or perhaps as the wallpaper of those applications, but it did not appear in any.
That was what led to the confirmation of the third clear clue: the assumption that there was a request to load the image in the app, but finally that image was not displayed in it. It was like a ghost image.
They also analyzed the period in which the requests grew significantly. That happened around the time India blocked several Chinese web services and applications, something that for example affected TikTok: the app would perhaps be one aimed at providing an alternative to this service.
Indeed it was: after a filtered search in its database it was verified that all the data matched and that indeed the image was requested but not displayed.
Those responsible for Wikimedia have not yet wanted to reveal the name of the application and have tried to contact them, but in the meantime they have taken a measure quite logical: they have blocked those requests that were actually useless: they increased traffic without actually using that image in the application that made the request.
More information | Phabricator