Listen to Wikipedia

Listen to Wikipedia sonifies and visualises activity on Wikipedia, offering limited interactivity. I have asked the authors, Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi, a few questions to explain the sonification process, which they were happy to answer.


The authors get the edit data from Wikimon, a wiki web-monitoring socket. Editing articles, new users arriving etc all contribute to the overall soundscape. When content is added, a bell sound is triggered while a string sound represents a removal of content. The pitches belong to a pentatonic scale; the more bytes are changed, the lower the note. When a new user joins the site, a sound will be randomly selected from three samples. To keep the soundscape from getting monotonous, the authors implemented some fuzzy rules:

* It won’t play the same sound too many times in a row (it will randomly “fuzz” the sound to a higher or lower pitch) to avoid getting too annoying
* It will only play a limited number of simultaneous sounds, to avoid getting too chaotic
* The two sounds are a celesta (net additions) and clavichord (net removals). We can’t tell if there was both an addition and a subtract, so all of the size amounts are net change
* Some of this logic and the celesta instrument are borrowed from Maximillian Laumeister’s Listen to Bitcoin.  It was adjusted for Wikipedia traffic, and a clavichord was added, the code was rewritten extensively in D3 and HowlerJS, and SoX for additional sound processing., and the sound files are compressed to make it more efficient for high traffic.

Visual mapping

A visualisation of the same data accompanies the sonification. Edits are visualised through circles. Green circles are anonymous edits and purple circles are bots. White circles are used for registered users. You can click on the circles to be taken to the revision history of the specific wiki page.

Interaction and iOS app

The interaction is quite limited: The user can choose which language versions of Wikipedia he wants to include in the sonification. Of course, as English is the most used language on Wikipedia, the most dynamic sonification takes place with the English language version. Listen to Wikipedia is also available as a free iOS app.

You can find more information here and download the source code.

Related work

Datawaltz is an installation that is based on the L2W software. It takes the on-screen environment and turns it into physical space. It was created by Nate Imai, Matthew Conway, Rachel Lee, and Max Wong, and it was premiered at the WUHO Gallery in Los Angeles in March 2017.

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