Yesterday, I stumbled upon a distressing fact: Air Buddy, the basketball-playing golden retriever and star of the 1997 classic Air Bud, died of cancer in 1998.
I didn't mean to find this out. And I really didn't want to know that Air Buddy had to have his right hind leg amputated the same year he became a star. But I found out anyway, because I had wandered into a Wikipedia Rabbit Hole.
This is how it happened, according to my browser history: I was reading about skyscrapers, looked up the list of tallest buildings in the world, clicked on the Transamerica Pyramid, then clicked on San Francisco, then—and this is where I start to lose focus, I think—clicked on San Francisco in popular culture, then (naturally) Full House, then Air Bud, then Air Buddy. The path from skyscrapers to Air Buddy, just another Wikipedia Rabbit Hole.
But what if the Wikipedia Rabbit Hole looked more like a galaxy? In the mind of Paris-based engineering student Owen Cornec, it already does. Cornec created WikiGalaxy, a visualization of the site in which each article appears as an object in space.
When launched, WikiGalaxy opens to a landing page showing a sample article, a search function, and the eponymous "galaxy"—which resembles more the Ring Nebula than our spiral Milky Way—in the center:
Once you click on an area of the galaxy, the page zooms in and allows you to select individual articles in the form of spherical objects. Click on one to highlight the article's links with yellow lines. Here, I've randomly zoomed in and clicked on the Politics of Anguilla, which then connects to pages on the Politics of the Cayman Islands, Grenada, Honduras, and more:
The lines show how far away or relevant another article is from your selected article based on its links. Putting the visualization on "fly mode" is even cooler: The feature zooms onto an article's plane and rotates around the object, giving the visualization a 3D feel. But because Cornec has only charted 100,000 Wikipedia articles so far, I'm unable to find the sphere representing Air Buddy. Instead, here's the "fly mode" look at Full House:
The sphere shows 19 available links for Full House in the visualization, including articles on the "somewhat related" Beach Boys, the "closely related" CBS, and the "highly related" Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.
If I wanted, I could then follow those yellow links to head down another Wikipedia Rabbit Hole, but it wouldn't be the same as clicking through the normal site. With this visualization, Wikipedia is no longer one article on a screen at a time—it becomes an infinite, complex network of articles, each containing different amounts of information, with varying degrees of relevance to every other article. It's as if you could reach through a Wikipedia page and access all other Wikipedia pages at the same time, like playing God to all of trivia and needed citations.
It's also a bit like lifting a veil. Because even when you don't see the vast galaxy of linking architecture that connects the site's ever-expanding content, that infrastructure is always there.