Wikipedia Updates Translated Into Ambient Music

By Joelle Renstrom | 8 years ago

listen to Wikipedia

I always tell my writing students not to use Wikipedia — or, at least, not to use it as anything more than a headstart for real, verifiable research. But if anyone ever attempted to use it to make music, I’d have to reconsider.

Everyone knows that the face of a Wikipedia page changes more quickly, and sometimes more dramatically, than the face of an aging celebrity. This makes it iffy for research, but awesome for “truthiness.”

The rapidly changing nature of Wikipedia also provides surprising musical potential. Two contributors at GitHub, a code-sharing and blogging site, figured out how to create a program that assigns a musical sound to the feed of Wikipedia’s recent changes. Each time you hear a bell, there’s been an addition to an entry. The sound of strings indicate that something has been deleted, and the pitch of the sound indicates the size of the edit. When unregistered contributors make an edit, you’ll see a green circle, and when the automated bots make an edit, you see a purple circle. If you watch for a while, you might see new user announcements as well.

You can watch and listen to Wikipedia’s recent changes right here.

Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi of Northern California built the Listen to Wikipedia project using D3, a data visualization creator, and HowlerJS, a modern web audio Javascript library. They published the source code on GitHub.

The two programmers are the brains behind Hatnote, a web project that also charts Wikipedia edits visually by converting users’ IP addresses to geographical locations.

Hatnote changes map

LaPorte and Hashemi are fascinated by Wikipedia’s dynamism, as well as the ratio of changes made by registered users versus unregistered users. Unregistered users make approximately 20% of the edits on English-language Wikipedia entries and are identified by IP address when they do. Their project, then, reflects only the changes made by unregistered users, despite the statistical likelihood that their edits will be more “unproductive” than edits made by registered users.

Upon listening to an NPR TED radio hour on collaboration, they were inspired to link their visual Hatnote map to music. And thanks to them, Wikipedia is now as interesting to listen to as it is to read.

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