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Some documentation applications, particularly wikis (including, of course, Wikipedia) have a Random Page function.

My question is - how important and useful is that? Is there any objective data available on how that affects the success of an application?

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I think it's just there for fun, and sometimes fun can add to the value of a learning-centric/knowledge-sharing app like a wiki. Not sure how you'd create objective data about it, though. Measure the GPA of students who only read random pages on wikipedia vs. those that didn't? ;) – Rahul Nov 8 '10 at 10:56
up vote 10 down vote accepted

The following items make a random button more useful:

  • The items are independent - i.e. are "consumed" individually
  • Their relevance doesn't vary by orders of magnitude (averaged over users)
  • casual exploration is a typical use case (is associated with leisure time)

Typical items are:

  • encyclopaedias (including the dead tree editions)
  • funny image / video collections
  • Comics without a strong storyline
  • Song lyrics
  • Tip of the day
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this is a really cool clarifying answer - thanks! – Wikis Nov 9 '10 at 7:20

I don't have any data, but surely it depends on the application.

Wikipedia, being an encyclopaedia, has a "user mode" of "browsing" (if you like) where a user will be using the site in an effectively random mode just following links that take their fancy. In this mode then a "show me a random page" function has real utility.

If however, I was using the site to find some specific piece of information then such a function would be useless and were I to actually click it counter productive.

So if your application has this "browsing" mode then a random function might be useful. I think you'd need to get some usage data to see if that's a valid model.

As an aside Stack Exchange might benefit from such a "Random Question" function to show a random unanswered question. In fact it has already been suggested here

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nice answer; I gave you +1 for the incorporation in Stack Exchange... long overdue, I think. – Wikis Nov 8 '10 at 12:39

It depends on how much data you have to present. With tv-tropes, it's a beautiful option because there is way too much data to navigate through in a meaningful way, while random browsing usually brings up something interesting.

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yes, so in this sense just like Wikipedia. – Wikis Nov 9 '10 at 7:21

As usual, it all depends on context. If appropriate, a "Random" button adds a nice element of playfulness to the website. If inappropriate, it will distract and confuse.

Perhaps the most famous one is Google's I'm Feeling Lucky button. FWIW, I have never used it, but I have used "random" button on other websites before (can't recall which, sorry) where discovery or learning is involved.

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nice answer, but I thought Google's I'm Feeling Lucky (which I almost never use) took you to a predictable (the most popular?) site - not a random one. – Wikis Nov 8 '10 at 19:45
yes, it is the first result: – Wikis Nov 8 '10 at 19:46
Ah, thanks for the correction. – Hisham Nov 9 '10 at 1:15
And, in related reading:… :-) – Bobby Jack Nov 30 '10 at 0:44

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