India banned TikTok and 59 other Chinese apps last year. This gave birth to a bunch of other short video apps that have expanded rapidly and receive millions of hits every day.
But there’s something else that gained a ton of traffic after the TikTok ban: a picture of a flower on Wikimedia. This image picture received more than 75 million daily hits — almost 20% of Wikimedia’s requests for images.
You may have important questions such as “what the fuck?” and “how the fuck?” — but me explain how did this happen.
It came to the fore when someone from the Wikimedia team reported the bug and then everyone got hooked onto it. The team and the Hacker News community began to dig around to find what could be the cause.
How transparent is Wikimedia?
Check out this actual, live ticket about an ongoing mystery. 20% of all requests to one of our data centers for media are for this image of a flower. Nobody knows why.https://t.co/IHrzpKGVbj pic.twitter.com/Cbw6pC9txd
— Chris Albon (@chrisalbon) February 8, 2021
Hours before the team closed the bug, it identified that this high number of requests were coming from a single Indian social media app. In a comment later, the team said that the app gained popularity around TikTok’s ban, and that’s when a high number of requests began hitting Wikimedia’s servers.
Intriguingly, while the app references the image, it doesn’t display the picture anywhere in the interface. However, every time anyone opens a fresh instance of the app, it made the request to the Wikimedia server.
As many commentators on the thread noted, this was probably a classic case of copying a code snippet from StackOverflow, a site for programming related discussions. This picture of the flower appears in quite a few examples on the site, and probably app makers just pasted the code without making any changes to it.
Sadly, we still don’t have the name of the app. We have reached out to Wikimedia for a comment, and we’ll update this mystery if we hear back. For now, the site’s servers can breathe easy.