Wikiweb: The Best UI For Wasting Time On Wikipedia

A new iPad and iPhone app by Baltimore designers Friends of the Web celebrates our wayward browsing habits by visualizing links between Wikipedia articles as a vast chaotic web.

It’s the curse and the blessing of Wikipedia: You look up something for work only to find yourself burrowing down a Wikiwormhole and emerging 20 minutes later as an armchair expert on the root causes of the dancing plague of 1518.

Wikiweb, a new iPad and iPhone app by Baltimore designers Friends of the Web, celebrates our wayward browsing habits by visualizing links between Wikipedia articles as a vast chaotic web. “We were inspired by our love for Wikipedia and our own browsing experiences,” Friends of the Web’s Andy Mangold tells Co.Design. “Oftentimes one of us will look up something simple on Wikipedia, only to be enticed by an inline link to a different page, and then another—sucked into reading about a whole host of different things. We’ve found some of our most cherished articles this way, and we wanted to build a system that was more conducive to this type of browsing.”

How it works: Search for a Wikipedia entry—Marcel Duchamp, say—and a hexagon-shaped icon appears. Stab the icon, and a web of hexagons representing all the Wikipedia entries linked to in the Duchamp article spreads across your screen. From there, you can tap any of the hexagons (Western Art, Surrealism, Fountain, and so on) to call up another, new web of Wikipedia entries. Clicking into the icons lets you read the accompanying articles and scan photographs, while zooming out offers a bird’s-eye view of your Wikiweb universe. You can then share your webs on Twitter and email (though we don’t understand why you’d want to do that; does anyone really care how you ended up losing 10 minutes of your life to the Tommy Westphall universe hypothesis?). Here’s a demo video:

Wikiweb isn’t just a fun way to waste time. Okay, it’s mostly that. But it’s also about democratizing the (admittedly already plenty democratic) exchange of information on Wikipedia. Think about a standard Wikipedia article. It’s too long, too wordy, and the design sucks, all of which conspire against your ability, or desire, to reach the end of the post, where a spate of delicious links might await. Wikiweb offers an alternative—a big, pretty mesh of links, where "Western Art" has as much of a chance of capturing your fancy as "Hans Richter" (something you will appreciate, no doubt, when Tuesday night trivia rolls around). “At the very least, showing these connections can expose the user to unexpected and interesting articles,” Mangold says. “At best, we think this web view can change the way people interact with the information on Wikipedia and encourage exploration and casual browsing instead of just being used for reference. If we can stimulate curiosity and wonder with our app, we’ll consider it a huge success.” What’s that you said? Sorry, got a little distracted here.

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