Dispatches: Featured sounds

A featured sound is a recording of a musical performance, an environmental field recording or a voice recording that has been chosen by the Wikipedia community as being among its best sound files, and that adds significantly to at least one article. Pharos and Phoenix2 created the project in August 2005 as an informal structure. Since then, it has developed into a project that sets the benchmark for Wikipedia's sound files.
The Edison cylinder phonograph c. 1899. One of our featured sounds is a phonographic recording that was a landmark in commercial advertising.

February 2007 was a milestone in the creation of a formal set of featured sound criteria, leading to the first promotion within weeks. The criteria stated that a featured sound:

  • is of high fidelity and technical quality;
  • is available in the public domain or has a free license;
  • adds value to an article, helping readers to understand it;
  • has a good caption and image description page; and
  • is accurate, supported by facts in the article or references cited on the image page.

In a major review of the criteria three months later, high fidelity and technical quality were expressed in terms of balance, reverberation, frequency response and stereophony, the requirement for musical performances was raised from "competent" to "of a high technical and artistic standard", and significantly more detailed requirements were laid out for the sound description page. Exceptions to the technical requirements for recordings made under extenuating circumstances were widened to include historical recordings. This is essentially the form of the current featured sound criteria.

The featured-sound process

The process is similar to that of nominating and reviewing other featured content. A nominator lists on the candidates page a sound file that appears to meet all of the criteria. Reviewers audition and comment on the file and its description page in relation to the criteria, usually declaring "support" or "oppose". Nominations are archived or promoted when it is clear that consensus has developed. Currently, archiving and promoting can be done by anyone; if the volume of nominations increases, it may be necessary to consider the appointment of a director to perform this task, as has recently happened at featured list candidates.

A Wikipedian's performance of this medieval song in the Occitan language is a featured sound.
Copyright is often an issue in the use of sounds in Wikipedia articles, and therefore of nominating sound files for promotion. There are two ways of navigating around copyright. The first is to become familiar with the vast repository of sounds stored at the Wikimedia Commons, which generally have no copyright issues. The Commons has many sound categories, and contains more than 66,000 ogg files alone, and even highlights a media file daily. This should be done in relation to the needs of one or more Wikipedia articles, some of which do not take advantage of ideal sounds that could enhance our readers' understanding and appreciation of their topic. Occasionally, nominators have identified an excellent sound file from the Commons that is already used in a Wikipedia article. The second way of avoiding copyright issues is for Wikipedians to create their own recordings. A typical example is our featured recording of a monophonic (single-line) melody from the European Medieval period, performed by Wikipedian User:Makemi, who has sung professionally. The melody is by the 12th-century Provencal poet-musician Beatritz de Dia, who was a trobairitz (a female wandering minstrel). The words to which the melody is sung include "The joy you give me is such that a thousand doleful people would be made merry by my joy".
The featured sound of the male alligator's bellow is a significant addition to the article on that reptile.
The wreckage of the USS Arizona ablaze after the attack on Pearl Harbor that prompted Roosevelt's Infamy Speech in 1941

What has been promoted?

Despite this wealth of opportunity, only 25 sound files have ever been nominated, leading to just 15 featured sounds, one of which has been demoted. Of the 14 current featured sounds:

The future

It is no coincidence that the featured sound process has emerged just as fast Internet connectivity is becoming the norm in many parts of the world. This has given a rapidly increasing proportion of our readers fast access to sound files in our articles, and suggests that a featured-videos project may eventually result from the experiment with featured sounds. Sounds are becoming an important resource in pursuing Wikipedia's mission to bring free, high-quality information to the world, and the featured-sounds project has set high standards for the use of audio illustrations in the project. Now that the FSC process has been formally operating for 16 months, we need more nominators and reviewers to expand the use of sound at Wikipedia, ensuring that the recordings, their accompanying documentation, and their relationships with articles are of the highest quality and improve the reading experience. In particular, we need to widen the scope to include content from more countries, both English- and non-English-speaking.

Newcomers to the process are welcome, whether they have skills in audio recording, music, oral history, or related fields, or simply—like most of us—a keen ear for quality!

Examples of featured sounds

The assistance of Zginder is acknowledged in the preparation of this article.

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