Wandering Through Wikipedia: One Widget at a Time

by Muira McCammon

It is 10:47AM-EST on a Monday morning, October 5th to be precise. I log into the Internet Monitor's Dashboard, load my Wikipedia Edits widget for "French Wikipedia," and suddenly, in real-time, I see a ticker of page names: Taikyoky ken, Les Sorcières d'Halloween 2, Machin (groupe), Coupe de Tunisie de football 2015-2016, Vars (Hautes-Alpes), Burdigala Production, L'Île mystérieuse, Land Rover Defender, Richard Ballarian. In this moment, I hesitate and chuckle to myself. Is this real? It feels as if I have my personal copy of French Wikipedia's ever morphing, ever magical blueprint.

Giddily, I add another widget to my Dashboard. This time, I select Wikipedia Edits for Turkish Wikipedia. Bing. Someone just edited Emir Berke Zincidi's Wikipedia page. I study Turkish, but I have no clue who this Emir is, so I click his name on the widget and am promptly taken here. I go back to the Dashboard. There are more edits to "Pana Film" and "2016 Eurovision Şarkı Yarışması."

I study French and Turkish, so watching these widgets thrills me. It's as if they're giving me the pop culture education my language textbooks never did. As a young American and the product of a monolingual family, I always thought the Internet's native language was English. In middle school, I began to wonder if certain corners of cyberspace spoke Hungarian, Chinese, or even Esperanto. Eventually, I bought a MacBook and started Googling in whatever keyboard I could: Arabic, French, Pashto. But still, my Internet - the Wikipedia pages I read, the pages of online news I probed - had a distinctly Anglophone undertone. It wasn't until interning with the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society that I started to see how various language groups engaged with the Internet differently. Case in point: not only were French netizens subject to different laws than my American counterparts; they were creating a cyberculture distinct from mine as well.

I go back to my Dashboard. I pause for a minute. I mean, I only have a minute or two before my classes start, but I'm hooked. I add another widget. This time, it's the Farsi Wikipedia Edits page. This widget's a bit tricky for me, because, you see, I don't know any Farsi. But no matter. I click on the most recent edit: لپوئی

The problem here is that if I just look at the Dashboard, I have no clue what this Wikipedia page is about, but I'm in luck. I have two options. I can click on the right panel of the Farsi Wikipedia page, to take me to the English Wikipedia page equivalent or I can copy and paste the term into Google Translate's Persian page. I pick the former option and see now that the page last edited in Farsi Wikipedia was indeed the page for Lapui, a city in Zarqan District, Shiraz County, Fars Province, Iran. I return to the Dashboard and click the next most recently edited Farsi page. I'm taken to غرور و تعصب. This time, I'm in luck, there's an image of a Penguin edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and with the little English splattered in the first sentence, I can confirm that some Persian speaker in the world has just edited this brief blurb about a book so many in America love and adore.

One aspect of the Wikipedia widget(s) that may perplex some users is that it's impossible to distinguish between when someone in France or Switzerland or even Syria makes an edit on a French Wikipedia page. In other words while the French Wikipedia widget shows which pages have been edited and whether (and how much) content has been added or removed, it doesn't indicate where the user making those edits is located.

The beauty of the Wikipedia widgets on the Dashboard is that they can be paired with other online tools, such as the Wikipedia Recent Changes Map, to gain a better sense of how specific countries and language groups are shaping Wikipedia content minute by minute. The Wikipedia Recent Changes Map is formatted a bit differently than the Wikipedia Edits widget in that instead of providing a list of altered Wikipedia pages, it shows a dot on a world map to demonstrate where each incoming edit was made. You can track dots for 29 different language groups together or separately. Another unique tool, called Listen to Wikipedia, assigns a sound to each type of change made to a Wikipedia page. Bells indicate additions, and string plucks, subtractions. Pitch changes align with the size of an edit, so that a larger edit will be accompanied by a deeper note. All of these tools allow you to visualize data related to Wikipedia edits differently.

One of the coolest aspects of the Dashboard's Wikipedia widgets is that you can embed them into websites of your own. So, we at the Internet Monitor have a request: if you're using the Wikipedia Edits widget for any particular language and notice an interesting stream of edits, let us know! You can take a screenshot of it and send it to us, so we can share your findings on our blog and Twitter feed. We're interested in keeping up with what’s being edited in all languages, from French to Farsi!