Wiki Games

Online research games and patterns reveal structures of human thought

As one of the most important websites to be coughed up by the collective human imagination, Wikipedia provides not only specific knowledge but stunning insight into the categorization of human thought. Most people use the resource for topical learning, to look up an unfamiliar term or brief themselves on history, science, and other fields of interest. But Wikipedia's structure lends itself to endless browsing as hotlinked terms guide readers between articles. The fluid reading experience is the second most important improvement on the print encyclopedia (the first being Wikipedia's democratic editing procedure). 

People have co-opted the Wiki's structure and the random article feature to create games within the knowledge bank. The most common game is to forge the shortest path between two random articles. Similar games include hopping to Jesus Christ in six steps or fewer by means of strategic clicking. The Wiki Game website allows for competitive online Wikipedia racing. You create an account, are given a challenge, and see how many clicks it takes to complete it. Most random articles can be bridged in fewer than ten clicks. The plethora of hotlinks allows for smart readers to use patterns of knowledge to their advantage. Going broad--i.e. clicking the link to the United States page--and then narrowing down seems to be a good strategy, but Wikipedia regulars will have an arsenal of pattern recognition techniques at their disposal.

One fascinating Wikipedia pattern isn't a game at all--at least not in the competitive sense. Try it for yourself. Land on a random article, then click the first hotlink (parenthetical links, pronunciation guides, and moderator notes excluded). Then click the first hotlink of the next article you arrive at. Then the first hotlink of that article. Keep clicking the first link of every page, and eventually you will find yourself in a strangely expository loop. More often than not, you'll eventually find yourself bouncing between Philosophy and Rationality. 

I didn't believe the pattern would hold true at first, but I've only found one exception in a long series of experiments. Greek Language won't get to philosophy, but it will get to Aristotle--so close enough, I suppose. But even the most irrelevant and superfluous articles will eventually lead you to the umbrella field of human knowledge itself. It's a fascinating pattern and a little bit meta. In our quest for knowledge, we eventually get so abstract that we can only deal in philosophy. It is the origin-field, the epistemological mothership. After all, human science arose out of philosophy. It wasn't always just a throwaway college major; it was the basis of knowledge itself back when knowledge was new. There's a certain kind of beauty to this browsing pattern's end. 

I'm sure there are other ways in which Wikipedia can be analyzed to reveal how we think about the world. For the first time in history, the contents of our giant collective mind are up for anyone to read and edit. Finding patterns in the collective consciousness is a fascinating project. I wonder what else we can dig up about ourselves. 

(via Reddit)



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