This week I downloaded an app that not only surpassed my expectations, but possibly changed my life. WikiSounds is an app that uniquely offers users a huge amount of data combined with an opportunity for surreal calmness. Let me explain:
What it is: The app, officially called ‘Listen to Wikipedia’, is the result of collaboration between Wikimedia’s Stephen LaPorte and PayPal’s Mahmoud Hashemi. The app pairs data accumulation with ambient sounds for the unique purpose of “informed relaxation” according to a City Lab interview with Hashemi. Citylab.com reported that since the app’s introduction last July, it has drawn 25,000 different users every month. It is free to download and available for iOS and Android.
How it works: The app’s data is sourced from the digital archives of Wikipedia. The app’s main screen features a black backdrop on which bubbles, representing real- time edits to Wikipedia articles appear. You can tap on the bubbles to get more information about the article, and double-tap to be redirected to the article itself. The size of the bubble represents the size of the change. Some changes are smaller than a pinhead, while others are the size of your palm – too large to fit your screen.
The different shades and colors mean different things, too. White bubbles are changes made by registered Wikipedia users, green bubbles are changes made by anonymous users, and purple bubbles are edits made by bots. Light colors represent additions to articles and make a bell sound. Dark colors mean something was removed from an article and make a string sound.
New users to Wikipedia are announced with a blue banner notification at the top of the screen as they join.
Why it’s cool: Finally, a beautiful balance between overstimulation and peace of mind. This app is both interaction-optional and multi-functional. If you want to plug in and zone out, it works great as an alternative to noise-cancelling headphones. If you just want to watch the bubbles drift on and off your screen, simply scanning the topics can give you a snapshot of what’s going on in the world. If you’re wondering what changes a bot could have possibly made to Wikipedia article ‘List of Bob the Builder characters’ or trying to stay current on the riots in Baltimore, you can tap to view the articles in-site.
The rewards of using this app are greater than just getting zen or gaining obscure knowledge, though. It’s kind of a reality check. Just one minute of interaction is enough to remind me of everything I don’t know, of how much data is really out there. This app is a subtle commemoration of the splendor of free speech. Humbling and instructive, this app is addictive – in a good way.