January 26, 2007

Six Degrees of Wikipedia

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at January 26, 2007 4:38 PM

I assume that someone somewhere has done this before, but in lab today we were inspired to play this game by a recent xkcd comic. The rules:

  1. Go to Wikipedia.
  2. Click the random article link in the sidebar.
  3. Open a second random article in another tab.
  4. Try to find a chain of links (as short as possible) starting from the first article that leads to the second.

I drew Eastern Region of British Railways and Packed bed, which I connected through:
  1. Eastern Region of British Railways
  2. British Rail
  3. History of rail transport in Great Britain
  4. Steam locomotive
  5. Fire-tube boiler
  6. Smokestack
  7. Flue gas desulfurization (this article mentions packed beds but doesn't link to the page)
  8. Wet scrubbing
  9. Packed bed absorber

If you try it, post any interesting results in the comments!

Tags: Internet

OK my, I so have to try this. Hell, I study network theory, so if anybody has to try this, I do.

By the way, I feel the need to comment on the xkcd comic below the one that inspired you.

It discusses cos(symbol for heart).

I'd like to generalize that to cn(symbol for heart), where 'cn' refers to the elliptic function whose limit as the elliptic modulus goes to zero is the cosine. (And this comment isn't totally out of the blue, as Lemming may recognize if he recalls a certain conversation.)

FWIW, I have a special fondness for elliptic functions. Some people love icosohedrons; others love SQUIDs; I love elliptic functions (...among other mathematical phenomena)

Posted by: Mason | January 26, 2007 5:40 PM

Sounds like an interesting game, AG.

That xkcd comic reminded me of a linguistic need that I've noted before - what do we call that "three hours of fascinated clicking" which makes Wikipedia so dangerous? That's a definition in need of a word, but I haven't come up with anything myself.

Posted by: Justin | January 26, 2007 6:26 PM

I call it "flicking." :)

Here's my play. I included some historical background related to the research on this problem, which happens to be one of the scientific problems that is near and dear to my heart.

Posted by: Mason | January 26, 2007 6:32 PM

I drew Sampradaya Dance Creations and List of Andaman Islands Expedition Victoria Cross recipients

Which I connected by:

Sampradaya Dance Creations
Military history of Canada
Victoria Cross
List of Victoria Cross recipients by campaign
List of Andaman Islands Expedition Victoria Cross recipients

A winning strategy seems to be getting to as general/large an article as possible in as few clicks. I kind of lucked out with "Canada" being one of the two links from the starting article. There might be a shorter route using India connection.

Posted by: William | January 27, 2007 9:14 AM

That was the same strategy I employed. I clicked on England first.

Posted by: Mason | January 27, 2007 11:22 AM

Mason, flicking is extremely generic. I find wikipedia to be uniquely addictive and dangerous as a potential time-sink (as does the xkcd guy, apparently).

Posted by: Justin | January 27, 2007 1:31 PM

I drew "Pour un Quebec lucide" first and "Le Manoir" second.

1. Pour un Quebec lucide
2. Quebec
3. French language
4. France
5. Departments of France
6. Communes of France
7. List of Communes in France
8. Communes of the Calvados department.
9. Le Manoir.

Was there a faster way? Probably.

Posted by: JSpur | January 27, 2007 2:31 PM

Jumping to high level articles quickly makes this a bit too easy... I just did a check of the xkcd example. There is indeed an article on wet t-shirt contests (which raises the question why, considering how restrictive they are on, for example, what scientists are important enough to "deserve" wikipedia articles...). N=4 gets to Taft, thanks entirely to a link to "1998" in the wet t-shirt entry. 1998, 20th Century, 1910s, Taft. Disappointing! Starting from Taft would almost certainly have been more interesting, but I honestly didn't think there'd be a wet t-shirt article!

Of course technically everything is N=1 to anything else, in the sense that by the nature of wikipedia you can just create articles and/or links at whim. You'll get reverted within minutes and banned within days if you keep it up, but it is technically a solution... :-D

Posted by: Justin | January 27, 2007 4:27 PM

I realize I put this definition on my blog and not Justin's but in case anybody is cross-reading, his N is number of hops and mine was number of pages.

Also, to make the game fair, clearly it has t be with pre-existing links.

Re: flicking: You're correct that this is a more specific type of it. I'd suggesting wikiflicking but that has too many syllables. You could just say surfing wiki, which (granted) has the same number of syllables but it doesn't tie my tongue up so badly.

Posted by: Mason | January 27, 2007 4:48 PM

I expect that the Bill Clinton entry is the fewest number of links away from "wet t-shirt contest" of any American President, proving that there is order to the wikipedia universe after all.

Posted by: JSpur | January 27, 2007 4:53 PM

"Wikisurfing" has a much nicer ring to it.

It's tempting to actually try and actually execute A* by hand, albeit with a not-strictly-accurate estimation function.

I'm reluctant to dig up a mouse, though, and this is gonna be a click-heavy exercise, so I'll save it for later. Sounds like a blast, though!

I still say should equal # hops, just like S_____r numbers, for example.

Posted by: Lemming | January 27, 2007 6:18 PM

Sounds like "web that smut", an old game from the mid-90s. The idea then was to see how many links it took to get from any non-porn site to any porn site. I think it was three links from Bob Dole's campaign site.

Posted by: Kaleberg | January 27, 2007 7:00 PM

I meant to write Gazebo's blog rather than Justin's. I think "wikisurfing" is a winner.

Posted by: Mason | January 27, 2007 11:32 PM

Via Chad's comments on the same topic, see this page. Includes a link to a pathfinding tool.

Wikisurfing should work. Technically it's the "pedia" part that's the time-sink (for most people - obviously some folks like the wiki-ness), but I certainly couldn't come up with a word based on that part of "wikipedia".

Posted by: Justin | January 28, 2007 4:06 PM

I drew "June Movement" and "El Dorado National Forest"

June Movement
European Parliment
Universal adult suffrage
United States
National Park
National Forest
List of National Forests-California
El Dorado National Forest

There's probably a more expedient way, but I'm not going spend hours working on it.

Posted by: Katie | January 28, 2007 8:36 PM

Justin: It looks like Gazebo got throated.

Your pedia comment is well taken (e.g., scholarpedia is a wiki but it used the latter part of the name), but you're right that it's easier to use the name 'wiki' than 'pedia.'

Posted by: Mason | January 28, 2007 11:09 PM

Since nomenclature is being discussed, I was amused that another xkcd (http://xkcd.com/c185.html) actually used the wiki- modifier correctly.


Also, if you say "pediasurfing" I bet a lot of people would get confused and think you're looking for... nevermind.

Posted by: Lemming | January 28, 2007 11:33 PM

Okay, wow, that was interesting. The draw:

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (which I've seen)
Laplace Expansion

I sped things up a bit by applying the search from both directions at once (thank you "what links here" button!), but I by no means did an exhaustive search.

By best guess for a connection paid off fairly quickly, though. Here goes:

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!
Discrete cosine transform
Discrete Fourier transform
Laplace Expansion (linked as Laplace's Formula)

I nearly shat myself when I saw Laplace Expansion, but it wasn't nearly so bad as expected! I also managed to avoid high-level articles / categories -- I was tempted to try and find a route through one of the umbrella mathematical categories pages, but that likely wouldn't have saved me much anyway.

Posted by: Lemming | January 28, 2007 11:46 PM

The high-level articles strategy (i.e., get to one of those asap) is the one that basically corresponds to suggested strategies on network navigation algorithms for things like P2P (I think there's a paper by Adamic and Huberman on this) and for vaccination strategies on disease dynamics models on networks (with the networks estimated from real data as opposed to grown artificially).

Posted by: Mason | January 29, 2007 6:03 PM

"Verdanturf Town" (a fictional town in Pokemon), to "Geographica (album)", an album by new zealand band Weta:

Vurdanturf Town to
Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire to
North America to
Pacific Ocean to
New Zealand to
Weta to
Weta (disambiguation) to
Weta (band) to
Geographica (album)

Posted by: Josh | January 30, 2007 12:53 PM

. . . Pediaphilia?

Posted by: Blake Stacey | January 30, 2007 1:05 PM

So I am a little late on this, but... I went from The Dixie Chicks to The Red Army Faction (West Germany's Anti Terrorist group)
1. The Dixie Chicks
2. President of the United States (not to be confused with the similarly named band)
3. Cold War
4. Western Europe
5. West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany)
6. Red Army Faction (or the Baader-Meinhof Gang)

Posted by: kitkatkc | February 13, 2007 1:08 PM
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