Your first guess for the most famous person of all time is probably correct: Jesus Christ, though Prophet Muhammad, Buddha, and John Lennon are close behind (Conger, Cristen). But how do we come upon this conclusion? What does it really mean to be famous? Let us explore these questions in the following paragraphs.
Being “famous” is more subjective than we usually think. Being famous can relate to being popular at a certain time and/or for a particular reason. We all know the phrase “15 minutes of fame.” So, being famous should be defined, especially when it relates to history, as to how long someone has been famous, and to what degree that person has been famous during that span of time. Also, is the fame this person has universal, or specialized. For example, I am an enthusiastic haiku poet, and Matsuo Basho is undoubtedly the most famous haiku poet of all time. But he is not even within the top 1,000 most famous people in the world. Thus, ideally, the most famous person of all time should be the most popular not only by duration and degree within that duration, but also by universal appeal (Conger, Cristen).
Astronomer Eric Schulman did a calculation of fame through similar methods. He looked at Google search hit numbers for certain individuals and viewed those numbers through the prism of longevity. So, although Donald Trump is now more popular on Google on Jesus, it is only a temporary fact. Jesus is still the most famous person throughout the history of humankind, at present (Manning, Allee).
Also, according to an analysis of Wikipedia metrics, Jesus still comes on top. Steven Skiena, a professor of computer science at Stony Brook University, New York, explained his method of determining how someone is famous through Wikipedia:
We analyse the Wikipedia pages of over 800,000 people to measure quantities that should correspond to historical significance. We would expect that more significant people should have longer Wikipedia pages than less notable folk, because they have greater accomplishments to report. The Wikipedia pages of people of higher significance should attract greater readership than those of lower significance. The elite should have pages linked to by other highly significant figures, meaning they should have a high PageRank, the measure of importance used by Google to identify important web pages. (Saul, Heather)
In terms of longevity being a factor, Skiena added: “An important aspect of our method is that we systematically decay the score of contemporary figures to reflect the loss from living memory which inevitably occurs over three to four generations. The significance of Jesus is shown by his mindshare today fully 2,000 years after his death. We don’t see the same happening for Justin Beiber” (Saul, Heather). This gives us insight into what it truly means to be famous, and not a fad.
Whether you look at it from the angle of Google search hits or the metrics from the online juggernaut Wikipedia, Jesus is demonstrated as the most famous person of all time. Why someone is famous is not a factor, but rather how many times he or she is mentioned across the internet and the prominence of those mentions across an extended period of time. Unlike most statistical data, our first guess is probably correct when it comes to hypothesizing who the most famous person in history is.
Conger, Cristen. “Who Is the Most Famous Person of All Time?” 10 November 2009.
Manning, Allee. “Statistics Find Donald Trump More Popular Than Jesus.” Vocativ, Vocativ, 30 Aug. 2016, www.vocativ.com/354812/donald-trump-is-rather-famous/index.html.
Saul, Heather. “Jesus Christ Named History’s Most Successful Meme.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 11 Dec. 2013, www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/jesus-christ-named-historys-most-successful-meme-8994865.html.
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