My name’s Gerv… and I’m an infoholic.

Whenever I have a tangential thought, I feel an irrepressible urge to read about the topic, usually on Wikipedia. Who invented the AK-47? What happened to that hijacked oil tanker? Who operates an A380 between London and Sydney? And, of course, the reading doesn’t stop when you answer the question. It’s playing havoc with my ability to focus and concentrate on one thing for more than about 10 minutes, or to get my work done.

I keep 90-day browser history, and my history has 853 unique Wikipedia URLs in it after you remove searches. That’s 9.47 Wikipedia pages a day, every day. Is anyone else willing to admit to a bigger problem than that?

(Procedure: in Firefox, open history sidebar using Ctrl-H, type “” into the Search box, focus the results, press Ctrl-C, paste into a text editor which numbers lines, then remove all Special:Search URLs.)

Here are 12 of the most random Wikipedia pages I’ve felt the necessity to read in the last 90 days:

The first step to a solution is admitting that there’s a problem… is there anyone else out there?

21 thoughts on “Infoholicism

  1. In my 90-day history, I’ve got 1348 such Wikipedia URLs (not including Special:Search and Image:*). Everything from “.so” to “Zwarte Piet”.


  2. How do you focus the results? I’ve tried clicking one and doing ctrl-a, I’ve tried holding shift while clicking the bottom one, all to no avail.

  3. ~13000 over 90 days.

    I recommend “Zurich 4 and 6” and “Template:CcTLD”. Now I have to go check out yours…

  4. @Gerv: Yes, me too. You mentioned an A380, so having looked it up I can now tell you that the UK road with the same number is near Exeter.

  5. Oh dear. Yes. Or at least I used to. Fortunately, wikipedia is full of crazy infighting, monomaniacs, and trivia-addicted sci-fi fans which keeps me from lingering; however the urge to shave that yak is strong – I visited a few dozen weird pages in my history after reading this. My google history is just as bad, if not worse.

    I’d tell you which pages…but friends don’t share needles.

  6. After doing the select-all/copy dance in OS X:

    find-waldo-now:~ jwalden$ pbpaste | grep -v Special: | grep -v index.php | grep -v Image: | grep -v ^http:\\/\\/ | grep -v ‘#’ | wc -l

    Google idiocy, special pages, image pages, and heading links constitute what I had to filter out.

    I have my settings currently set to save 360 days of history, but I switched that last June from whatever I previously had as a default (8-9 days maybe?), and I wasn’t using my computer from June through October, so grains of salt abound and all that. Still, that doesn’t seem all that bad for two months maybe-plus something more, and I really haven’t gone on any random walks lately — mostly depth-one from a reference in a blog post or similar, and a few depth-twos from a Supreme Court case mentioned in various legal blogs I’ve been watching lately.

  7. Hey, at least we’re not counting bugs in Bugzilla! Surely somebody can beat my 1662 bugs viewed, under the same conditions as given in my previous comment. ;-)

  8. Gotcha. 180-day history, 2003 wikipedia pages. Reading both english and german articles on the same topic to get a maximum of information surely doesn’t help keeping the numbers down ;-)

    It never occured to me others had the same habit…

  9. yep, Gervase, looks like it’s a widely spreading trend. several articles have been popping about Google Reader overusage as well lately. but then again, is it really overusage? one does become much more knowledgeable about how the whole system has worked and currently works around us, therefore perhaps making much more informed decisions every day. for example, i’ve noticed that it is very much pointless waste of time and effort to debate about almost any topic face to face, because someone else has probably already come to a meaningful conclusion about the subject matter and the real job is to first search for it. by reading a lot, you either know/remember majority of the different views on the subject and reduce your own participation in plenty of such speculative go-nowhere conversations. that lets you free up even more time to read some more. until you will simply get mentally/physically tired and finally settle at an optimal rate of ingesting information.

    or something like that.

  10. 625 unique wikipedia entries… and I only keep a 7 day history. I must admit that I have been following a topic called “Creepy reads on wikipedia”, so that accounts for the bulk of it (I hope). On the other hand… wikipedia obsession comes and gos for me, there’s always the ~200 feeds that provide fresh information. And that’s even after I’ve been cutting some feeds because of information overload. Come to think of it, after removing a couple of the most frequently updating feeds I started visiting a forum more often. So I guess I’m really a infoholic.

  11. I don’t think this is really about information – it’s just a different form of procrastination ;-) The same thing happens on youtube (related videos), google reader (following links in posts), kongregate… I even followed the instructions as they were given, even manually editing out the wikipedia searches (ever tried measuring how long that takes?), although I know that there’s a SQLite manager extension that can query places directly.

    I should really get some work done, instead of finding out how often I visit Wikipedia, and how exactly history items are expired (I always thought that there was another limit of 20k pages because it says “at least X days” in the preferences, so I spent almost an hour trying to verify this, but in the end, maybe I just misunderstood #332748).

  12. There were a few months there where I kept a separate browser window for just Wikipedia articles, and it typically had 20-30 tabs open at any given time, yet an individual page that I added to that queue (by middle-clicking a link) would work its way to the first (leftmost) tab in a few hours. Clearly I was spending way too much time on that.

    Lately I’ve had it a bit more under control, though. I don’t think I average more than 2-3 articles a day now, and in some cases I just read the summary at the top. What’s my secret? We’ll, I sort of started studying a foreign language, and that’s been kind of soaking up my time instead…

    There are worse habits. I work at a public library, and I see people check out 60-80 hours of video material (which goes out for a week) at one time. (The worse case I’ve yet seen is five seasons of a television program on DVD plus ten movies on videotape. 5 DVD + 10 VHS is the checkout limit, of course, but someone could beat this record by checking out multi-tape VHS boxed sets, such as Cadfael, instead of the motion pictures.) Do these people not have a job? Do they not sleep at night? Do they view everything in fast forward, or set up three televisions side-by-side and watch three things at once? No, wait, I’ve got it: I bet they don’t read encyclopedia articles in their spare time.

  13. Wow, big response! Clearly, I’m not alone, and not even a particularly bad case.

    Cupcake: I suspect it was your blog which directed me to the Poxy Boggards.

    Topher: Focus the search box and press Tab? I can’t remember quite how I did it, but it’s definitely possible.

    Lurker: Wow. That’s scary.

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