Recording the voices of Wikipedia

  • September 16, 2013
Lord Weymouth, one of the people who has added his voice to the project
Lord Weymouth, one of the people who has added his voice to the project

Wikimedia UK recently lent its support to an innovative project to record the voices of notable people as an accompaniment to their Wikipedia articles. The project, being led by Wikipedian Andy Mabbett (User:Pigsonthewing) and supported by a Wikimedia UK microgrant, involves taking a sound recording of article subjects introducing themselves and adding the file to the Wikipedia article. Recent examples that you can listen to include television mogul Sir Peter Bazalgette and Lord Weymouth, a former MP and the project’s first peer of the realm.

Andy explained the project in a little more detail. He said: “The idea is to let Wikipedia readers find out what the people we write about sound like, and how they pronounce their names. It’s great that we can hear the voices of people like Gandhi and Alexander Graham Bell, but what about all the other historic figures, whose voices are lost forever? We shouldn’t let that happen when we have the technology and resources so easily available. Sure, some of our subjects are known for media appearances, but those aren’t necessarily available globally nor under an open licence. And most have never appeared on radio or TV.”

One of the most useful benefits is being able to actually hear how people pronounce their own names. This is particularly helpful for unusual names and for readers for whom English is not their first language.

“With a surname name like mine,” Andy said, “I know how often mispronunciations occur, so we ask the subjects to introduce themselves by name, giving us a definitive record of their preferred pronunciation. Even a name like “Bill Smith” might be problematic, to a kid from China or Peru, never mind saying Phoebe Featherstonhaugh!”

In July Andy applied for a microgrant of just under £150 to buy sound recording equipment to help make the project happen. This was approved and the project continues with an aim to record 50 audio introductions over the coming year.

“Wikimedia UK’s support has been invaluable,” said Andy. “They’ve already purchased a digital recorder so I can record subjects, in person. I’ll be approaching theatres, sports clubs and other places where numerous notable people congregate. And the tech team are looking at making a web tool or app which will make the process simpler for Wikipedia subjects who want to contribute via their own computer, but don’t understand the technicalities of ogg files and Commons uploads. But anyone can help – most people know or meet someone (their MP, an academic, or sportsperson, for example) who has a Wikipedia biography. Why not ask them to record their voice for Wikipedia?”

You can learn more about how the project came about here and listen to the recordings uploaded so far here

Wikimedia UK’s microgrants programme awards grants of between £5 and £250 to help support the improvement of Wikipedia content. You need to be a member of the charity to apply but joining is easy and you can learn more about membership here.

3 thoughts on “Recording the voices of Wikipedia”

  1. Dear Andy!

    Actually I think that not only separate voices, but the whole content of the Wikipedia and Wikimedia should be voiced up! For me it is always more comfortable to listen to something then to read it… I am dreaming about the… AUDIO NET! Absolutely new web, which would be completely d1fferent from the existing “visual” one…



  2. Hi Alex,

    There is a Spoken Wikipedia Project which records people reading Wikipedia articles, and makes them available as open-licensed audio files. This has seen little uptake, probably for two reasons: Firstly, they quickly fall out-of-date, as the text articles are updated. Secondly, there are now a number of tools, many free, which will read web pages to you, using voice synthesis. You will be pleased to know that we constantly strive to make Wikipedia friendly to such devices, by adhering to international standard web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *