It’s easy to take Wikipedia for granted and overlook just how popular it is. It is the largest encyclopedia in the world by far, and the seventh-most-visited website in the world, drawing more traffic than the likes of Twitter, Netflix and The New York Times, not to mention every other news site out there. But the nonprofit has a relatively small staff and lacks the budget of a big tech company to trumpet its own achievements. A programmer and a lawyer in The Bay Area are on a quest to remind everyone of this absurdly useful and unprecedented resource. And to hit the point home, they turned to sound.
Programmer Mahmoud Hashemi and lawyer Stephen LaPorte have collaborated to make a bunch of different programs that highlight what Wikipedia does. They’ve created interactive maps, data visualizations, and a program that will email you the most edited articles every week. You can try them all out at Hatnote. But the effort that has drawn the most attention is a program that lets you hear and see the encyclopedia being edited in real time.
The program is called Listen to Wikipedia, and it is mesmerizing. Hashemi and LaPorte sonified Wikipedia’s data, representing every edit with a sound and image. Whenever someone in the world makes any change to the encyclopedia, a colored ball appears and a sound plays. Bells mean someone just added to an article. Strings mean they deleted something. The deeper the note, the bigger the edit.
There are several edits every second on Wikipedia, thousands every hour. You can literally watch and listen as volunteers collectively build the most comprehensive record of our world. Check it out at listen.hatnote.com. Hats off to such a beautiful data sonification project that brings attention to the massive, collaborative, nonprofit human achievement that is Wikipedia.