In the two decades since its creation, Wikipedia has grown to be absolutely massive, with more than 6.3 million articles written in English alone. Those articles — as well as millions in other languages — are constantly being re-written and tweaked. If Wikipedia were a living creature, it would be one with many, many shape-shifting limbs.
Visualizing this constant process of re-creation is difficult, to say the least. A better way to understand it? By listening. That’s what developers Mahmoud Hashemi and Stephen LaPorte realized back in 2017 — and thus “Listen to Wikipedia” was born. The site is exactly what it sounds like: an auralization of all the recent edits made on Wikipedia.
The best way to understand Listen to Wikipedia is to experience it first-hand. Each time a new edit rolls in, the soundscape automatically populates a new ambient sound to match. Small edits create higher sounds; larger edits create lower sounds; bells are additions; strings are subtractions.
Never has Wikipedia’s vast landscape been so comprehendible. Or relaxing.
How’s it work? — The beauty of Listen to Wikipedia is in its simplicity. Both the site’s functionality and its behind-the-scenes mechanics aren’t attempting anything complex. LaPorte and Hashemi created Listen to Wikipedia after contemplating the beauty of BitListen, which turns Bitcoin transactions into a soundscape.
Listen to Wikipedia receives its update feed through a WebSocket plugin called WikiMon — which, yes, was also created by LaPorte and Hashemi through their Hatnote project. WikiMon just broadcasts all Wikipedia changes through a feed. The Listen to Wikipedia web page then translates those update signals into ambient sounds with a little help from software called Sound eXchange.
You can check out the full Listen to Wikipedia source code over on LaPorte’s GitHub.
Wikipedia as a lifestyle — Hatnote, which LaPorte and Hashemi founded in 2013, considers Wikipedia as not just a website but a way of life. “Every day I wake up happy that one of my favorite websites, Wikipedia, is free and well-supported,” Hashemi writes on Hatnote’s About page. Hasheni and LaPorte publish their projects in support of pushing Wikipedia as innovative and supremely important.
Listen to Wikipedia is only one of Hatnote’s Wikipedia-focused projects. There’s Monumental, for example, which is a map-based exploration of cultural heritage sites. Or the Top 100 project, which charts the most-read articles on Wikipedia. The duo has even created a weekly summary of the most-edited Wikipedia pages called The Weeklypedia. The team’s full list of projects is extensive. Everything is open-source.
It’s all too easy to take our access to an enormous, free encyclopedia for granted. Thankfully we have people like the Hatnote devs to remind us.