A system of sonic representations of activity on Wikipedia

Boston CyberArts Festival, DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, MA

April 5-19, 2005


What is a Wiki?

A Wiki is a website that allows users to add content, as on an internet forum, but also allows anyone to edit the content.  Wiki also refers to the collaborative software used to create such a website. The name was based on the Hawaiian term wiki wiki meaning “quick”. Ward Cunningham is the father of the wikiwiki concept and describes a wiki as “the simplest online database that could possibly work”. The English language Wikipedia is by far the world’s largest wiki that is active on the worldwide web today.


Wikipedia / Soundscape


What is Wikipedia? www.wikipedia.org

Wikipedia is a web-based free content encyclopedia that is written collaboratively by volunteers. It consists of 195 independent language editions sponsored by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Entries on traditional encyclopedic topics exist alongside those on almanac, gazetteer, and current event topics. It is “an effort to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language.” Wikipedia is one of the most popular reference sites on the web, receiving around 50 million hits per day. Wikipedia contains approximately 1.5 million articles, over 500, 000 of which are in its English language edition, over 200, 000 in the German language and over 100,000 in the Japanese language. Its’ articles are edited by volunteers in wiki fashion, meaning articles are constantly subject to change by anyone.

Where did my interest in working with wikis

stem from?

While the Boston Cyberarts Artist-in-Residence at the IBM Collobrative User Experience Group, I was inspired by CUE member Martin Wattenberg’s visualization methods for history flow of Wikipedia. Wikis, in general, were not a concept that I was familiar with at that time and became more and more interested in them as quick ways to post information on the web. Wikis become collective knowledge bases with surprising accuracy. Due to their specific, democratized authorship, wikis present an alternative to the tradition of publishing. And the popularity of Wikis is growing: While spending more and more time on Wikipedia I was fascinated by the amount of people from all over the world logging into Wikipedia: approximately 30 per minute!

Why a Wikipedia Soundcape?

Wikipedia is a knowledge base that is under continuous update by authors from different locations around the world. This real time nature constitutes an interesting media in which momentary relevance of specific topics can be traced in time and by location. For example, recent events like the death of the pope are covered by the worldwide media, resulting in an increased interest of issues related to the pope, which will reflect as updates in pope related wikipedia genres. Updates can be located by the IP addresses they were sent from. Global position can be plotted as segments in a sound spectrum. Localized activities result in a sound collage in which patterns can be detected. Patterns help people to detect, recognize, and categorize relevant events in the world.

Wiki Landscape

The visual component of the work presented here is a world map in three layers, subdivided into three panels. Each panel represents one of the three global segments of the world, from left to right: The Far East and Oceania; the Americas; Europe, Africa, and Asia. The background layer of each panel shows the geographic region with its most important (large) cities. The next layer represents the geographic timezones and how these cast a temporal sequence on global activity, literally spoken: if it is day on one side of the world, it is night on the other, resulting in different activity patterns – hence the temporal wiki dimension creates a transclucent layer on the time-neutral geographic fabric. From the perspective of the Wiki, activity in the world is visible only as IP addresses with time stamps, relating to changes in topics. This is the information – in context with their local origin - is displayed in the top layer of each panel.

Wiki Soundscape

The program of this wiki sound translation rests on the subdivision of the world map area into 10 degree quadrants which each capture a certain frequency spectrum. Each of the topics covered by Wikipedia in alphabetic order is given a specific overtone signature to their base frequency as a timbre which distinguishes topics from each other. The amplitude of the resulting sound of wiki topic signature and area base frequency is given by the number of activity in regard to one topic by wiki users in that specific area per time unit. What you are listening to with the headphones is the chorus of the wiki soundscape – a sketch of voices produced by different topics with activities from a variety of areas. Different time stamps synchronize this soundcape with topic changes indicated on the wall panel, recorded between 15:14 and 16:03 on April 06, 2005.

Funded by Boston Cyberarts