Warcraft Realms website gets it’s data from an addon. Players download and install the addon like any other WoW addon, and it runs whilst you’re playing WoW. It takes a “census” of whoever is online, on the realm/joint realm you’re playing on, on that faction. The player then uploads that data to the Warcraft Realms site.
The reason the data is all over the place is twofold. Firstly it relies on people having the addon, running the addon, and uploading the data, per realm, per faction. Secondly, since Blizzard changed the way addons work using the /who commands, it can no longer be used passively. ie, it used to automatically do a full /who of everyone online, without any user help (they still had to be logged in to a specific realm and faction, of course). Blizzard stopped that, primarily, I believe, to try and stop some of the guild recruitment spammers (they had certainly been aware of the census addon for a considerable number of years and were fine with it). So now the addon runs only when a user is actively interacting with the game. Meaning they can’t simply log in to a realm and let it do its data collection by itself, it’s a lot more user intensive, and takes a lot more time.
So … data on the site will have jumped for a couple of reasons … either more people are online on a specific realm, at the time the census was taking place, or (potentially more likely), as realm connections are in the process of taking place, more people are checking out realms theirs may potentially be connected with, meaning there is more data available.
I certainly know that I’ve taken a few more data runs on different realms recently.
For example … I’m currently playing on Lightbringer/Mazrigos on Horde side. My census has just popped up to say that, on the most recent census run it:
“Found 2 new characters, and saw 55. Took 14 min 52 sec.”
Admittedly that was longer than normal, because i was multitasking and not playing constantly … the census basically does what you can do … a /who … but it breaks it down … /who 120. If that brings a result of 49 (which is the max /who will report), it breaks it down further into class, or race, and then alphabetically by name. So realms with more people on, take longer, and also become slightly less accurate, because in theory a level 120 could be included in the census and, if they’re alt hopping, could then be included in several other results for the same census. In theory it’s “concurrent players”, but depending on how long it takes, it might not be.
But then, none of the ways we have to see population are accurate … this I feel, if you have an active census-taker on your realm, is the most accurate.
**EDIT - and I’ve just realised you’re talking about wowrealmpopulation website, NOT warcraft realms website So ignore the above