Listen to Wikipedia

Zen out with hi-tech ambient sound.

Trying to buckle down and work? Noise-cancelling headphones aren’t the only mellow way to drown out your co-workers’ incessant chattering or the whirring of a coffee machine at your local café. Try listening to the dulcet tones of Wikipedia being edited in real time.

Listen to Wikipedia is a site and app that that draws from Wikipedia’s recent changes feed to translate the sum of the tweaks into a chilled-out symphony. (Click through to give it a listen.) Bells denote additions to a page, and plucked strings represent deletions. Synthesized strings swell and fall in the background. Larger revisions yield more resonant notes. It uses a pentatonic scale to avoid screeching dissonance. (Think: tones produced by xylophones and lutes.)

Designed by Wikimedia lawyer Stephen LaPorte and PayPal engineer Mahmoud Hashemi, the site and app draw about 25,000 unique visitors per month. Librarians seem especially intrigued by the "informed relaxation," says Hashemi. The James B. Hunt, Jr. Library at North Carolina State University even installed an interactive version of the app last spring.

Listen to Wikipedia also chronicles the number of changes happening to the site per minute, and how many bytes of data are flying around. You can even see whether revisions were made by users or a bot. When you’re listening online, you can watch a series of purple, white, and green bubbles appear against a gray background. (Purple circles are bots, white circles are registered users, and green circles anonymous editors). The name of each edited page pops up, then fades away. In a 30-second span, edited pages included “extreme dodgeball,” “Marfan syndrome,” and “Doink the Clown,” an uncanny, creepy persona adopted by former professional wrestler Matt Osborne. (One of his signature moves was called The Whoopie Cushion.)

As much as the site is about a zen-inducing auditory experience, it’s also an aural celebration of collaboration and freedom of speech. It serves as a sensory reminder that people are sharing and responding to ideas all the time, at a mind-boggling pace. "People are used to imagining an encyclopedia as an authorless text," says LaPorte. "But in reality, Wikipedia articles are often written by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of different people." Write the developers, “There’s something reassuring about knowing that every user makes a noise, every edit has a voice in the roar.”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. The downtown St. Louis skyline.
    Perspective

    Downtown St. Louis Is Rising; Black St. Louis Is Being Razed

    Square co-founder Jack Dorsey is expanding the company’s presence in St. Louis and demolishing vacant buildings on the city’s north side.

  2. Warren Logan
    Transportation

    A City Planner Makes a Case for Rethinking Public Consultation

    Warren Logan, a Bay Area transportation planner, has new ideas about how to truly engage diverse communities in city planning. Hint: It starts with listening.

  3. a photo of Housing Secretary Ben Carson in Baltimore in July.
    Equity

    How HUD Could Dismantle a Pillar of Civil Rights Law

    The Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to revise the “disparate impact” rule, which could fundamentally reshape federal fair housing enforcement.  

  4. a photo of the L.A. Metro Expo Line extension
    Life

    Why Can’t I Take Public Transit to the Beach?

    In the U.S., getting to the beach usually means driving. But some sandy shores can still be reached by train, subway, and bus.

  5. an aerial view of Los Angeles shows the complex of freeways, new construction, familiar landmarks, and smog in 1962.
    Transportation

    The Problem With Amazon’s Cheap Gas Stunt

    The company promoted its TV show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with a day of throwback 1959-style prices in Los Angeles. What could go wrong?

×