Monday 26 December 2011

Cool Wikipedia categories and lists

Wikipedia is not only an ever-changing, almost pathologically up-to-date, populist source of post-encyclopaedic information ("knowledge" is maybe too distilled a concept for this resource); because of its born-digital, crowdsourced, collectively tagged content, it is also a veritable tangled-net of categories, lists, statistical flukes and fortuitous agglomerations of tenuously related items. I know people who have used Wikipedia links as a mini-Semantic Web to test relationships between concepts and places. Some of the most interesting pages on the web are the Category pages, where one can browse the keywords with which this meta-encyclopaedia's entries have been tagged.

Last night, George Dvorky listed twenty of his favourite lists on Wikipedia, only a few of which were organic categories as I describe them above. You can see his interest in paradoxes, unsolved problems and natural disaster (just as the category ghosttown in my Delicious reveals my obsession with abandoned human settlements). All fascinating lists, by the way, especially the ones with statistics attached.

It got me thinking about the category pages that I find most fun and scintillating to browse. One of the nicest things about these is that their contents page have changed since I linked to them. The other nice thing is that they're a mine for story ideas.
  • Out-of-place artifacts - these are interesting precisely because they're not in the next category: in archaeology, as in hard science, a one-off is often considered a fluke or a hoax, but these seem to be real. Hard to explain, lacking in context, but not obviously bogus.
  • Archaeological forgeries - there are more fun, but fodder for "what if" or alternate history type stories: what if they weren't forgeries, but real? (Okay, let's not get into van Dänicken territory...)
  • Fictional writers - we all love writers, especially, it would seem, writers.
  • Nonexistent people - people who were or are thought to really exist
  • People whose existence is disputed - people we just aren't sure about
  • List of people reported to have lived beyond 130 - almost all of these are probably spurious, but what's the fascination with historical longevity? (This is not a category, but the curated list is more useful than the closest category I could find.)
  • Fictional languages - again, these are not hoaxes, in most cases, but languages invented for fictional worlds, like Láadan or Klingon. What does it take to invent a language?
  • Feminist science fiction - different kind of category, but this is one that could grow as more items get tagged this way. What can you think of that isn't here already?
  • List of hoaxes on Wikipedia - a meta-list if ever there was one: entries that were created in Wikipedia, spuriously, and went unnoticed long enough to catch on, or spread to other media, before they were deleted. Catalogued here for posterity, along with a convincing appeal for why you shouldn't try to do this again.

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