What is this fossil? Only a dedicated Wikipedia user will find out! (Photo: Wikicommons.)
Of all the internet wormholes to fall down, Wikipedia might be the deepest. An offhand remark in a movie or a wayward glance out the window or a flash of random thought across the brainpan and then, boom, hours of bouncing from one article to another. We can sometimes get stuck in our ways, though—I myself end up buried in the same pages about species of weasels and micronations over and over.
But recently a friend taught me simple trick to move out of my Wikipedia comfort zone, which also allows us to explore more deeply into Wikipedia’s dark core, the weird articles that have been seen only a handful of times—unincorporated districts in Indiana, obscure Bangladeshi political figures, middling Australian Rules Football players, specific brands of Polynesian animism, totally unremarkable species of Ecuadorian moths.
These are articles you’d never have discovered on your own, bizarre articles sometimes obviously shoddily translated from Hindi or Romanian, sometimes lacking punctuation, sometimes composed without any of the famously strict rules of article construction. These are articles that may have been created by the subjects themselves, articles that don’t link to any other articles, articles that hardly anybody will ever have any reason to seek out. And you can see them!
To pull yourself into this world is easy: we’ll simply be setting our web browsers to open a specific URL when we open a new tab. The URL will be Wikipedia’s Special:Random page, which opens a totally random Wikipedia article.
For Chrome users:
- Download this Chrome extension.
- To put in our Special:Random URL, click on the three-horizontal-line menu button (the hamburger, if you will) all the way to the right of the address bar.
- Go down to “More Tools” and click on “Extensions.”
- Find the New Tab Redirect extension and click “Options.”
- Then, in the “Redirect URL” box, paste this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random
Now, when you open a new tab, it should open a random Wikipedia page!
For Firefox users:
- Download this Firefox extension. When it installs, it’ll ask you to restart.
- After restarting, click on Firefox’s three-horizontal-bar menu button, and click “Add-Ons.”
- Click on the “Extensions” tab, then hit the “Preferences” button under NewTabURL.4. Of the four first options (“blank page,” “current page,” “homepage,” “URL”) select URL, and paste in this URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random
Make sure the next two boxes are unchecked, and you should be good to go!
For Safari Users:
- This is the easiest one of all. In the top menu bar, click “Safari,” then “Preferences.”
- Make sure the “New tabs open with” box says “Homepage.”
- In the “Homepage” box right underneath that, paste that same, lovely URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random
And that’s it! Now you can get exploring.