After the singularity, how will we explain the internet pastime of going down a Wikihole to our cyborg children? Five minutes of link-clicking on The Free Encyclopedia can take you from Polydactyly to Mao Tse-Tung to mangoes to urine, for example, or from “skateboarding dog” to “skateboarding duck” to “individual waterfowl” to Maria the Goose. It’s a trippy experience that’s made even trippier with Wikiverse, an interactive 3D visualization of Wikipedia, in which hundreds of thousands of articles are pictured as stars in the cosmos. Clustered together by hyperlinks, they form solar systems, star clusters, and galaxies of related information. Clicking on a star lets you see its entry, as well as all the stars it’s linked to. The beautiful UX makes browsing Wikipedia entries feel like flying through space.
Designed by French programmer Owen Cornec, Wikiverse debuted in 2014, but a recent update grew its database from 50,000 to 250,000 articles. They’re now grouped by subject into categories like politics, art, technology, and health.
Exploring the Wikiverse’s galaxy of art reveals some strange, unexpected constellations. Let’s go with the star of Thomas Kinkade, so-called Painter of Light, as a starting point. Kinkade’s page has the predictable connections to the stars of “Kitsch” and “Norman Rockwell,” but it also connects to the star of Marcel Duchamp, because of the time an art critic suggested Kinkade should present his work as Duchampian conceptual art. And, it’s two degrees from the star of the word “Motherfucker.” Also in Kincade’s star cluster: “Nudity in Combat,” “List of Middle Earth Orcs,” and “Codpiece.”
Is there any deeper meaning to be found in these random connections? Look up “meaning in random connections” and you’ll land on the Wikipedia page for “Apophenia,” “the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random data.” In the Wikiverse, the star of apophenia is connected to the stars of Jorge Luis Borges, schizophrenia, the Interpretation of Dreams, Rorschach Test, and toast, among many others. Browsing the page, you’ll likely get distracted from your search for meaning in the connections and instead go learn some random facts about toast.
Like visiting a planetarium, browsing the Wikiverse can inspire a sense of your own cosmic insignificance and ignorance of all the stuff that’s out there. But in the age of information overload, it’s also strangely comforting to see the overwhelming universe of Wikipedia visualized 3-dimensionally: You can zoom out from it, Powers of Ten-style, and see it as a manageable, self-contained whole.
Browse Wikiverse here.