A loopy Wikipedia app brings you full circle

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By Devin Coldewey

Browsing Wikipedia and going from topic to topic is a common activity, but there are certain patterns that emerge when you look at it systematically. For instance, if you just keep following the first link in articles, you'll eventually wind up in a loop among such high-level concepts as truth, reason and philosophy. Don't believe it? Try it with this fun little Web app!

The phenomenon is known among the site's enthusiasts, and has made various appearances in Internet culture — it even has its own Wikipedia page. It was noticed as early as 2008, and you can test it out yourself, but WikiLoopr will do it for you, starting at a page of your choosing and progressing until it arrives at some kind of infinite loop.

Some get there faster than others, and the numbers change from time to time as the phrasing in such subjective definitions as that for "Fact" and "Memory" are edited. But by Wikipedia's own estimate, there are hardly any that don't get there eventually: 94.52 percent lead to Philosophy, part of a large loop that goes through "Emotion," "Intention" and "Society" among others before it arrives back where it started.

Curious user and coder Philip Bradbury actually put together an even more striking visual representation of the phenomenon:

It illustrates not just the interconnectedness of ideas, but how Wikipedia is structured. Every item, be it Gruyere cheese or Julius Caesar, has to be defined in terms of something larger and more general — foods, emperors, disciplines, continents — and those too are part of something yet larger. Eventually you get to the highest level, abstractions like "Philosophy," and you never go back down.

Are there any that don't ascend to those airy heights? Certainly: "Home," for instance, only goes one step, to "Residence," before returning, well, home. And if 5 percent of the roughly 4 million articles on Wikipedia don't do it, there are about 200,000 more to find.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.