Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 20:22, 9 August 2012
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Almost all file names end in a period followed by a (generally three-letter) suffix known as a file extension, used to determine the type of content contained in the file. Generally (but not always), a particular extension will only be used by a specific program or small set of programs, making a file's extension a quick indicator of how the file might have been produced.
Because of that last part, and the fact that certain programs will tend to be used by only certain types of people, a file's extension may provide a hint toward how trustworthy the file's content may be.
- .tex files are source files for the programs TeX and LaTeX, which are used often and almost exclusively by academics, especially in mathematics and the hard sciences. Therefore, a .tex file generally indicates serious business.
- .pdf files are a document format by Adobe, frequently used for publication. Thus, a .pdf file is likely to be some type of final product or polished work.
- .csv files contain a bunch of raw data delimited by commas, and are likely computer-generated (from, say, a scientific experiment).
- .txt files contain only plain text, no "rich text" or anything fancy. They are generally used by programmers for purposes such as README files.
- .svg files are a vector graphics format used a lot for diagrams, such as on Wikipedia.
- .xls and .xlsx files are spreadsheets used and created by the program Microsoft Excel, part of a bundle of applications known as Microsoft Office. Most Microsoft Office applications are designed to be simple and straightforward to use, and the applications are very popular among users of Windows, meaning that almost anyone would be easily able to make an .xls or .xlsx file. However, most people who have a need for spreadsheets would use them for tasks such as storing raw data and running calculations and/or plots on them (e.g. finance). .xls is used for Excel versions prior to 2007, while .xlsx is used for Excel versions 2007 and later.
- .doc files are a rich-text document format used and created by the program Microsoft Word, another application in the Microsoft Office bundle. As with Excel, almost anyone with access to Microsoft Office could easily make one of these. Unlike Excel, Word is used much more frequently for anything involving text or documents of any kind, which is presumably why Randall doesn't trust it much.
- .png files are a bitmap image format designed for the Internet. They enjoy wide popularity for providing crisp, full-color images with lossless (invisible) compression. Almost all xkcd comics, this diagram included, use PNG.
- .ppt files are used and created by the program Microsoft PowerPoint; as with the other two Microsoft Office applications, almost anyone could easily make one of these. As they are usually used for presentations rather than documents, the information in them may be arranged differently, possibly to "dumb down" the content.
- .jpg files are another image format with high compression capabilities. While this quality makes it excellent for storing photos, it makes it not so good for many other things. For example, storing numerical or textual information in a JPEG file is typically a bad idea as it will be prone to annoying compression artifacts. When a digital camera or similar device takes a high-quality photo in .raw, it will often be compressed into a JPEG file up to a hundred times smaller for ease of use; therefore, a JPEG file's content may be untrustworthy as it doesn't contain the original photo.
- .jpeg files are the same thing as .jpg files; however, it is more likely that an image with this extension was created manually rather than automatically by, for example, the aforementioned digital camera. This makes it less trustworthy.
- .gif files are yet another bitmap image format. This format is somewhat unique as it is capable of short animations instead of just a static image (animated PNG files are possible, but not all browsers currently support it). GIF was once the Internet image file format until PNG gradually replaced it. Since GIF is the only common image format capable of animation, it is often used to contain things like silly clips of cats falling into boxes, or blinking advertisements claiming that you're the 570,000th VISITOR!. Their frequent use in the most annoying types of advertisements (pop-ups, etc.) is presumably why Randall deems it the least trustworthy out of all file extensions listed here.
Note that while the extensions .xls/.xlsx, .doc, and .ppt were originally exclusive only to Microsoft Office and users of Windows, there now exist a number of open source programs such as Open Office, Libre Office, and some Android apps that are capable of editing such files. These programs can run on systems other than just Windows, such as Linux, perhaps contributing to making them even more widespread and easy to make than before.
The title text refers to how .txt files contain only plain text and nothing else, meaning that any alignment (such as for indentation or tables) would have to be performed manually by adding in spaces or tabs. Anyone who would go through such an effort to improve their text's readability is likely to be trustworthy.
- Trustworthiness of Information by File Extension
- [A bar graph charting this. No units or figures are given, but for ease of comprehension this transcript will arbitrarily designate the highest score as "+100"; subsequent scores are estimates based on the size of their bars.]
- .tex: +100
- .pdf: +89
- .csv: +85
- .txt: +67
- .svg: +65
- .xls/.xlsx: +49
- .doc: +21
- .png: +15
- .ppt: +14
- .jpg: +3
- .jpeg: -8
- .gif: -36
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