214: The Problem with Wikipedia
|The Problem with Wikipedia|
Title text: 'Taft in a wet t-shirt contest' is the key image here.
This comic illustrates the "problems" of information explosion coupled with a dense web of hypertext links. Through most of human history, written media has been both slow and linear. Hypertext allows a new type of information consumption, through small chunks of information linked together in a web of related concepts, and by being digital, each new chunk can be retrieved quickly and effortlessly. Wikipedia applies this principle very strongly, and because it covers so many topics, it is common for a reader to skim an article about a topic they need or want to know about, and end up following a series of links out of curiosity. Since each new page also has several links, the overall navigation pattern resembles a tree that branches out, "exploding" in size with each new level of link-clicking, thus resulting in many wasted hours (over three in this case) of reading stuff unrelated to the original goal, and lots of open browser tabs holding a wide variety of articles, which are seemingly unrelated, but have common "ancestors." (The problem, for Randall, of wasting time on Wikipedia was later referenced in the title text of 1501: Mysteries, and the more general problem of getting trapped following a never-ending chain of interesting links was covered in 609: Tab Explosion.) The large diversity in end links may also be a reference to the Wikipedia game.
One can also see this effect occur in other MediaWiki-powered wikis such as this very website, where one comic can lead to another of similar relation or category. In the table below, a possible route for each entry has been found.
Finding routes between the start and end points of the two pages above and the six below makes good challenges in the Wikipedia game.
The title text refers to two of the articles that were supposedly reached at the bottom. William Howard Taft was the 27th President of the U.S., in office from 1909 to 1913, who was notorious for being so overweight that when a humorist invented a story about him getting stuck in the White House bathtub, people took it seriously. A wet T-shirt contest is an exhibitionistic competition typically featuring young women contestants at a nightclub, bar, or resort. Clearly the combination of these two would be rather bizarre.
There is an online game that involves trying to get from one Wikipedia page to another in the shortest possible route: http://thewikigame.com/.
- Table of paths
Due to the ever changing nature of Wikipedia, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge entry on Wikipedia no longer links to Structural collapse, requiring an intermediate step via Tacoma Narrows Bridge (1940), and since Structural collapse now redirects to Structural integrity and failure, most pages on Wikipedia that linked to Structural collapse have been changed to rename this link.
The table below lists one valid route for each destination article, though it is not necessarily the most efficient route. And that these routes may become invalid as articles are edited. They all have been updated on March 21, 2015. All links then could be found directly on the page. This was not the case in the original version of the paths, where some links were in hidden parts of the page.
- [Heading above the chart:]
- The PROBLEM with WIKIPEDIA:
- [Text in a frame below the heading:]
- Tacoma Narrows Bridge
- [Lines lead down both left and right to two new frames with the following entries:]
- Suspension bridge
- Structural collapse
- [Two more lines lead down from the left frame and one from the right frame, and all lines end on a wiggling line from left to right. Below this wiggled line in square brackets it reads:]
- Three hours of fascinated clicking
- [Further below there is a similar wiggling line, from where six lines lead to new frames below:]
- William Howard Taft
- 24-hour analog dial
- Lesbianism in erotica
- [This frame is followed by a second:]
- Batman; Fatal hilarity
- Taylor Hanson
- [This frame is followed by a chain of two others:]
- Cotton; T-Shirt; Wet T-shirt contest
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