Conceptual Knowledge Networks

The above graphic represents a URL scrape of Wikipedia. In particular, a seed Wikipedia page was chosen (the United States of America). From here, all internal hyperlinks on that page were scraped. And then those hyperlinks were scraped. This process occurred until a terminal point was reached.

What’s super cool is we can see how “big” concepts act as network hubs. These hubs allow travel to both other hubs, and “smaller” concepts. In the middle, we see the “large” concept of the US. Surrounding it are “smaller” concept such as “Flint, Michigan.” Towards the outside, we see various hubs that connect the conceptual network. For example: in the upper left we see a hub—this is the Wikipedia page on “religion”—an obviously “large” concept. Other “large” concepts that act as hubs are “War,” “Buddhism,” “Jesus,” “English Language,” and “WW2.” One can easily imagine how easy it is to get to a given Wikipedia page by simply referencing any of these “big” concept hubs. The darker red the lines between nodes/concepts, the greater the amount of ways one can conceptually get to a given concept. For example: there are many, many ways one can navigate the hyperlinks in Wikipedia to get from the page on the US to a page on WW2.

Hyperlinks represent a significant enhancement in how human beings store and represent information. Ted Nelson coined the term in 1965 (or possibly 1964) while a member of Project Xanadu. Mr. Wilson was inspired by a 1945 article by Vannevar Bush in which Bush described a hypothetical manner of linking any 2 given micro-films via a “trail” of related information.

Hyperlinks are a distinctly human way of organizing information in that unlike previous systems (i.e., the Dewey Decimal Classification System, 1876), they are relational. Traditionally, information and knowledge were organized in a categorical or nominal way. A given designation or code was assigned to a given piece of knowledge or information. In this way, knowledge was organized as discrete pieces of information in isolated bins. Hyperlinks, in contrast, organize information in relational manners—once concept links to another concept, and to another, ad infinitum. This, it turns out, is exactly how the human mind organized information—not hierarchical, but in a web or network of interconnected ideas, beliefs, and concepts. Conceptually, it is trivial to think of how one can get from the concept of “Blue Whale” to “My dog Buddy.” Blue whales are mammals, and the larger category of mammals includes canines. My dog Buddy is a canine.