Get ready for a bewildering wealth of information. Wikipedia is about to start mapping itself.
On Thursday, Wikimedia software engineer Max Semenik announced that the organization has created a GeoData extension that will include a centralized, structured catalog of geo-coordinates for articles.
More than 500,000 Wikipedia articles — approximately 5 percent of the site's content — already contain geographical information, but this new initiative will streamline data storage, enabling programmers to mine and map the data quickly and easily through the API.
There are already maps of Wikipedia data, the best of which are produced by TraceMedia and can be studied here. These interactive maps allow users to sort and view spatial arrangements of information anywhere in the world. Here's New York City (color-coded by word count):
And here's Washington, D.C.:
With geographic information stored uniformly across the site, though, the data will be easier to use and more accessible to developers. In the future, for example, Wikipedia will be able to show users which articles nearby are in need of photos, directing contributors towards needed additions.
The first appearance of the new GeoData extension is in a mobile add-on called "Nearby," which shows users a list of nearby Wikipedia entries. (To activate "Nearby," select "Settings" from the drop-down menu on the Wikipedia Mobile site, then activate "Beta" mode, save, and then activate "Here Be Dragons" mode. "Nearby" will appear in the drop-down menu.)
This software is a pretty simple beginning, but it's easy to see how interesting it could get. I asked a few friends to run the site from a few different cities.
Here's where I am in Washington, D.C.:
I didn't even know there was a statue of Don Quixote nearby, let alone a Wikipedia page for that statue.
Here are screenshots from New York City, on the left, and San Francisco, on the right:
You get the idea. It's simple, but it could be a cool way to pass the time while you're waiting for the bus. And this is only the beginning.