RB Search Gizmos

Explore Wikipedia Topics as Timelines With Wiki Category Chronology

One of the disadvantages I have as an independent, non-academic Internet searcher is that most of the searching I do is on unstructured data. I usually can’t afford the large well-structured resources (I guess it’s a lot more efficient to serve institutions with subscriptions than individuals) and with no academic standing I can’t use university resources.

So I spend a lot of time thinking how I can jury-rig some semblance of structured data to direct my searches. That inevitably leads me to thinking about time and location, two pieces of metadata you can apply to just about anything in physical reality.

Time is an excellent organizer. Sometimes what it organizes is too small or isn’t focused enough to be interesting, but it still works well. I know that if I can imagine the time element of an online resource, then I have identified an organizational structure that I can access, repurpose, or extend if I can access it via API.

I had that in mind when I put together Wiki Category Chronology, which is available at https://searchgizmos.com/wcc/ . WCC turns Wikipedia categories into topic-specific timelines but listing their pages by creation date and adding external Google and Google News search links. Let me show you how it works.

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Using Wiki Category Chronology

WCC requires only one thing: a Wikipedia category. It’s tolerant of different formats, but the easiest is just to paste in the entire URL of a Wikipedia category. Let’s use the January 6 category as an example. The whole URL is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:January_6_United_States_Capitol_attack ; paste that in the search box and hit the button. WCC will organize the pages by date created and present them to you in a table.

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Paul D. Irving was the Sergeant at Arms of the United States House of Representatives on January 6, 2021, which is why he’s in this category, but his page was created long before January 6, 2021. That’s why he’s at the beginning of the list.  The other pages were created just before or after the attack, with the flow of topics providing a certain amount of narrative around January 6 and how the events surrounding it have progressed.

To add more context I created two search links for each Wikipedia topic – one for Google and one for Google News. Instead of unrestrained searches these links search a 14-day time radius around the creation date of the Wikipedia page. If a page was created on June 16 2021, for example, the Google / Google News searches would span from June 2, 2021 to June 30, 2021. Focusing on the search around the page’s creation date creates rich results with more contemporary detail. They also tend to remind us of smaller stories which were pushed aside as larger elements unfolded.

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Some categories, of course, do not have a clear narrative and include pages which were created very early in the history of the Internet. In the case of such pages, especially ones which were created pre-2010, you might find little-to-no connection between dates and Google searches. Probably not going to learn much goofing around in the Beer category.

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On the other hand, if you look at a technology category, it can be useful to find out which topics are older than others. Also, if you look at news articles written early in the history of something, they tend to have more explanation and assume less foreknowledge. (Of course, technology evolves, too, so don’t assume a story from eight years ago is entirely correct in all its details!)

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WCC won’t prove useful for every Wikipedia category out there, but for things like current events and technology it’s great. Even categories about books and places work well when turned into timelines and kitted out with search options.

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