Wikipedia Speedruns and the Interconnected Nature of Knowledge

pile of covered books

When I first came across the concept of Wikipedia speedruns, I thought they were a pretty stupid idea. Not that they were a bad idea per se, but the idea of a speedrun is that it’s something measurable across time using a medium that’s static. As soon as conditions change, that speedrun must be adjusted and previous records are no longer considered. With a platform as ever-changing as Wikipedia, speedruns seem like an obvious clickbait entertainment that seemed like a good idea at the time it was trending.

Now, I have a lot of issues with Wikipedia, the greatest of which is its lack of independently verified sources. I come from a day and age where academics absolutely frowned upon the use of Wikipedia as a source in essays and research papers. Heck, on their own website they say that using Wikipedia for academic use is a terrible idea.  Yet, this doesn’t seem to be at all the case today – I see it used as a source constantly. I understand why; on the surface, Wikipedia is an amazing idea, but the problem is, it’s not of the quality that an encyclopedia or other scholarly reviewed source can be. That’s not to say it’s worthless; I’ve always used Wikipedia more as a way to gather primary and secondary sources, and for that it can be an invaluable research tool. But, it is not the be-all end-all definite source of knowledge on the internet.

However, besides being a free and sometimes extremely comprehensive bibliography on a litany of topics, Wikipedia offers one other incredible boon by its very existence: the interconnectedness of its massive cross-reference library. Wikis are incredible software, but unfortunately the publicly available wikis have become extremely buggy. It’s a shame because the very concept of wikis is actually how a lot of information is organized on the internet, and it seems that many ways you could once use wikis are being constricted by people who want to control the flow of information. Hmm, that’s quite a new thing, isn’t it? Anyway…

The entertainment value of Wikipedia speedruns is getting from one rather dry topic to one that excites a great many simply by following links (cross-references) from various articles. The idea is to get from one topic to another in as few clicks and in as little time as possible. It’s the process of figuring out these speedruns that intrigues me, understanding how each topic intersects with another topic that is either semi-related or simply adjacent to another that will lead you to your eventual destination. 

In reality, these speedruns are more Wikipedia decision-making tree planning than actual speedruns. But, you can see how the two could be mashed together for some YouTube poop posting. However, while I mostly dismissed the concept for being simply clickbait and somewhat clever entertainment with some flawed premises which keep them from being actual speedruns, I did recognize the value of people taking these actions, while those participating often seem to be missing the point of what allows these runs to even occur.

The democratization of knowledge is extremely important and is an idea I’ve always been behind. I only wish that Wikipedia were set up to be an actual knowledge base rather than a “nonprofit” money grab. That being said, it’s still a very useful tool. Just don’t ever consider it a primary source; it’s not, and frankly, it was never meant to be. Again, it’s amazing for finding sources and getting a general outline of a topic, but so many people use it as a primary source and it just drives me mad. However, I think the idea of Wikipedia Deep Dives, rather than speedruns, could make for surprisingly educational adventures in the interconnected nature of knowledge.

Honestly, what Wiki Speedruns has built is actually a heck of a way to expand your knowledge, even if in an extremely cursory and surface-level way. I congratulate them on taking what’s really a pretty silly idea on the surface and making something useful out of it. You just never know which disparate topics will somehow become connected.

~ Amelia Desertsong

P.S. this short essay was written sometime in either 2032 or 2023, but felt it worth reposting.

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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