The Signpost

News from Diff

Sawtpedia: Giving a Voice to Wikipedia Using QR Codes

Contribute  —  
Share this
By Yamen
Link to Medina of Tunis article
This article was originally published on Diff on October 10 2023 (licensed CC-BY-SA-4.0). It shows how to generate and use QR codes that link to sound files that will read the introduction section of Wikipedia articles. The QR code on the right links to a reading of an article mentioned in the story below. Just scan the code with your phone and click the link given there. We'd be glad to hear your reaction to the reading, posted in the comments section below.

A new tool to bridge the gap between our physical surroundings and the digital realm came to life under the name of Sawtpedia. This tool enhances our exploration of items documented on Wikipedia by enabling users to listen to Wikipedia articles through the simple act of scanning a QR code generated by the tool itself. Sawtpedia opens up a fascinating audio dimension to the world of knowledge discovery.

Sawtpedia (User:Yamen CC-BY-SA-4.0)

In this post, we'll delve into Sawtpedia, exploring its origins, capabilities, and the potential it holds for knowledge dissemination.

QRpedia: The Precursor

Before we dive into Sawtpedia, it's essential to recognize QRpedia, the precursor of Sawtpedia. QRpedia, introduced in April 2011, is a mobile web-based system that employs QR codes to deliver Wikipedia articles to users in their mobile's language. Conceived by Roger Bamkin and coded by Terence Eden, QRpedia utilizes Wikipedia's API to determine whether a specified Wikipedia article is available in the language used by the mobile device used to scan the QR Code.

QRpedia has found its niche in various settings, including museums, GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) institutions, historical cities, and even cemeteries.

Fascinated by this tool, I tried to introduce it to my country Tunisia. During Wikimania 2014 I initiated the idea of a new project in the medina of Tunis (UNESCO world heritage city) that I named Medinapedia. This project was executed by the Tunisian NGO Carthagina and with the collaboration of Wikimedia Tunisia and the Tunisian Association of the Preservation of the Medina – Tunis (ASM Tunis).

However, after installing the QRPedia codes on the monuments within the Medina of Tunis, I realized that it would be more practical to listen to the Wikipedia articles rather than reading them while strolling through the historic city.

And that's how the concept of Sawtpedia dawned upon me!

Introducing Sawtpedia

So, what exactly is Sawtpedia? Sawtpedia, a fusion of "Sawt" meaning "sound" in Arabic and Swahili, and "pedia" as a reference to Wikipedia, serves as a tool that produces QR codes for Wikipedia articles. These articles, spanning various topics like monuments and museum collections, offer users the convenience of listening to them in the device's language.

Upon scanning a QR code, Sawtpedia fetches the Wikidata item for the associated article. If an audio file is available on Wikimedia Commons for that Wikipedia article in the user's mobile language via the Wikidata property P989, Sawtpedia plays it. In cases where such audio recordings are not available on Commons, Sawtpedia steps up by generating an audio version using the article's lead text through the gTTS Text-to-Speech System (under MIT License).

The concept was initially introduced at the WikidataCon 2021 and later put into action during the Hack4OpenGLAM when my friend Houcemeddine Turki stepped-in and assumed responsibility for the coding part and the deployment on Toolforge.

Sawtpedia is the result of collaborative efforts between Wikimedia Tunisia, Wiki World Heritage, and the Data Engineering and Semantics Research Unit from the University of Sfax.


1. Enhanced User Experience: Sawtpedia seeks to provide a better experience for visitors who scan QR codes. It bridges the gap between written content and auditory accessibility.

2. Foster GLAM partnerships between Wikimedia affiliates and museums: The tool can serve as a strong motivator for museums and local affiliates to collaborate closely. Museums can derive numerous benefits from Sawtpedia. (check this article: 7 reasons why museums should use Sawtpedia!).

3. Content Creation: The tool indirectly aims to foster content creation within the Wikimedia ecosystem. This includes the expansion of Wikipedia articles, Wikidata items, and audio files on Wikimedia Commons.

4. Promote accessibility and inclusivity: Sawtpedia can be used to promote accessibility and inclusivity by providing information to those who may have difficulty reading or accessing text-based content. For instance, the tool has the capability (work in progress) to provide the possibility to listen to content in local languages/dialects that are not configured on mobile devices (e.g. in some countries like India, most of the phones are configured in English while there are many local languages/dialects).

Sawtpedia installed on the front door of the Ribat of Lamta a listed monument in Tunisia (User:Yamen CC-BY-SA-4.0)

In conclusion, Sawtpedia is more than just a tool; it's a leap forward in making Wikipedia accessible to a broader audience. By combining the power of QR codes, Wikidata, and audio resources from Commons, it transforms the way we engage with Wikipedia articles. Whether you're exploring a museum, visiting a monument, or simply curious, Sawtpedia offers a new dimension to the world's largest open-access knowledge repository.

In this issue
+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

Sawtpedia is more than just a tool; it's a leap forward in making Wikipedia accessible to a broader audience. - is it possible to quantify this claim a bit more? How often is Sawtpedia used per day currently, and how do the usage numbers per topic compare to the pageviews of the Wikipedia article(s) about the same topic, say?

check this article: 7 reasons why museums should use Sawtpedia! - there seems to be a link missing here? The story could also have used some copyediting (e.g. there's a word missing here: QRpedia, the precursor Sawtpedia).

Regards, HaeB (talk) 19:12, 23 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Thank you @HaeB for your feedback ! This should be possible in the next version of the tool as we would like to include a dashbaord that displays the number of scan, some statistics on the languages used and other useful information . This will be very helpful to identify for instance which recordings or articles are missing.
Re the missing article "7 reasons why museums should use Sawtpedia!" the article will be available on diff soon and the link will be added. Apologies for this inconvenience. Yamen (talk) 00:50, 30 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Thank you for this clarification. It's good to hear that it is planned to obtain data that will enable quantifying the actual impact of Sawtpedia. Until then, I would suggest to refrain from claims that may turn out to be exaggerated. Regards, HaeB (talk) 21:12, 4 November 2023 (UTC)[reply]

How is a QR code "more accessible" than an ordinary clickable link to an .ogg file???? Contrary to the delusions of some technophiles, not everybody on this planet has a smartphone which they use for QR codes. --Orange Mike | Talk 21:19, 23 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]

All this is about people walking around in the real world - not sitting in a chair with a laptop, so we're not really comparing apples to oranges. Now if you are carrying your laptop around with you and you can type in the Wiki article title, then clicking a link would be easier. But you have to admit, if you have a phone (or a laptop) that can scan the photo, this will take you straight to the audio. I would guess (with a bit of reprograming) the QRcode could be replaced with a regular link for desktops and then the audio could be called up easier in that context. And maybe (with a bit more reprograming) you could hear a complete reading of any Wiki article - in the most recent version. That would be super cool, but it is getting away from what they are actually doing now, which is good enough for me (so far). Clicking a link might be very useful for vision-impaired folks, but designing it for the way those folks actually would use it would probably be way more important. So now I'm really getting ahead of things, but I think QRcodes are a good step along the path. Smallbones(smalltalk) 00:56, 24 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Thank you @Orangemike for the question and @Smallbones for the answer ! I will add that a QR code can be very helpful for instance for museums to provide visitors with a better experience by scanning the QR codes and listening to a description of the displayed collection especially that with the one QR Code displayed we can have access potentially to all the languages supported by Wikipedia no need to have a QR Code by language. Yamen (talk) 00:55, 30 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Thank you so much for presenting this project, all of the overall goals you set definitely resonate with me! Obviously, this tool still needs improvements, and I have a few doubts about the availability of ready-made audio files (since not many users seem to contribute regularly anymore), but still, I can see huge potential in here! Oltrepier (talk) 08:37, 24 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Thank you @Oltrepier for your feedback! Yes definitely the tool needs improvements especially to support the iOS devices which have an issue reading ogg files, also to be able to support local languages/dialects that are not installed on the phone and to provide more statistics. Regarding the availability of ready-made audio files, actually the tool can be a good reason to motivate people to record more articles so their voices can be heard (it can be a way to foster a sense of community engagement for example within a city or a museum community). Worth noting also that if the audio file is not available then a Text To Speech will be triggered and the user will be able to listen to the article and with the improvement of the TTS technology we can think in the future to automatically generate audio files and upload them to commons (we need just to sort out the copyright issue). Yamen (talk) 01:02, 30 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Nice news Yamen Bousrih et al ... a clever idea and thanks for the acknowledgement. Now, I wonder if you/we have thought about upgrading the existing QRpedia code so that codes in Australia, Ukraine, Germany, Wales etc suddenly start reading stuff out aloud. There were codes on Tutu's, Mandela's house, US heroes graves and on Gandhi's house. Obviously we wouldnt change the plaques but the code... more ideas available if we open the code box. Victuallers (talk) 09:11, 24 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Thank you @Victuallers for your feedback! actually the tool is not meant to replace QRpedia as providing the possibility to read the article is definitely a good thing. Nevertheless what we can think is when scanning the exsiting QRpedia Code, we can ask the user to choose between reading or listening to the article. This of course won't require to change the plaques but we will need to do a small adjustment to the QRpedia code. I will try to contact Roger Bamkin to explore this idea with him. thank you very much for this suggestion !! Yamen (talk) 01:07, 30 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]
{{ping|Yamen}} I am Roger Bamkin. You have contacted him - see my talk page?. Your interesting work is not seen as a threat but as an opportunity. Victuallers (talk) 08:33, 30 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Thank you @Victuallers and apologies for not making the link with your username :) . I have sent an email and will be happy to have a call to further explore the idea of offering the option to read or to listen to the article when scanning an exisiting QRpedia code. Yamen (talk) 23:01, 4 November 2023 (UTC)[reply]

QR codes will also be available soon for each article. See phab:T242467 and currently in testing at beta: available in the tools menu as "Download QR code". —TheDJ (talkcontribs) 12:11, 24 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]

I immediately imagined a Wikipedia triple sticker on a sign in front of a tourist attraction with QR targets for (mobile) text, audio, and video versions. Or a whole cluster of QR for languages. No, not good. Probably better to have one QR leading to a paragraph or just to choices starting with language. Audio versions would be robot voices unless the article attracts so much interest that we make a good narration, and video would I think be rare but eventually who knows? Jim.henderson (talk) 20:55, 27 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]
@Jim.henderson: I think you've got the idea here! There's a lot that you can do with this type of QR code. I'll make a few suggestions, though, of things I think you've missed, e.g. there would be little need for a slew of language QR codes to be posted. The program recognizes your preferred language on your phone and should read the introduction of the article in whatever language version you prefer. In case there isn't an article in that language version, I believe it defaults to English.
Sawtpedia reading for Liberty Bell
I'm interested in how much people like or dislike the mechanical voice. I'm pretty impressed. I'll rate it 95/100 for pronunciation, 90/100 for general naturalism, but only 75/100 for reading tempo (there are occasional long pauses in the wrong places). You can listen to the article introduction for the Medina simply by scanning the QR code at the top of the article. It's a bit short, so I've put the code for a much longer introduction (for the Liberty Bell) down here. Well maybe it's not just scan and listen, but almost. With my phone it takes 4 steps:
1. turn on my phone
2. turn on my phone's camera and point it at the QR code
3. (the QR code appears amazingly quickly at the point) click the link
4. (generating the voice can take some time) press the little triangle symbol to hear the voice.
That's it (Yes, i was trying to be as detailed as possible)
By the way, the mechanical voice is required to read out the most recent article version every time. Having pre-recorded voice files would get in the way of this (in the current version - I'm writing about things here that could probably be done with minor changes in the code).
Your idea about linking to a menu paragraph could turn out great! Maybe just 4 items: 1) current article text; 2) current article audio; 3) pre-recorded audio; 4) video.
For on-site use (e.g. in front of a building) I don't think a lot of people would need to use video. Why not just look at the building in front of you?!
A Stroll along Beach Avenue, Cape May, New Jersey (Video 3:35)
BTW, I love video on-Wikipedia. You might enjoy some of my NRHP efforts, e.g. my best such video is on the right. They are hard to make, and hard to edit (I couldn't make this now). Some other such efforts are: A Walk up Main Street, Adamstown, PA (2 minutes), File:A Walk down Main Street, Delta PA.webm, and File:Wellsville, PA.webm. On second thought, maybe posting a QR code to video would be useful at the start of these walks. As always, Smallbones(smalltalk) 19:04, 29 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Thank you @Jim.henderson for the idea of the video option and I think this is definitely a very good idea to add as I believe in the importance of video content especially for new generation who prefer watching rather than reading.
@Smallbones thank you again for your valuable feedback and I like very much your idea of having a menu paragraph with 4 choices. I'm on the same page as you regarding the importance of having videos on Wikipedia and I like the videos that you shared. I tried few years ago on the French Wikiepdia to replace the main photo in the infobox by a video as I think it will be more useful for user to get quick information before reading all the article. You can check this example here:
I'm still waitng for a better version of the tool Video Wiki to be able to produce easily more videos. Yamen (talk) 01:16, 30 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Something very important to share about the QR codes: using QR codes requires the installation of a plaque or a sign having the QR code to be scanned which is not possible sometimes without the cooperation of the owner/manager of the building or the GLAM institution. To bypass this obstacle we are trying to have another version of Sawtpedia based on an augmented reality and IA which means that you don't need to scan a QR code anymore but just to open the Camera in front of a monument or a museum collection and the tool will identify which Wikipedia article corresponds to it. I will keep you posted about this tool :) Yamen (talk) 01:22, 30 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]
So, I see a few ways to get into the guide.
First we talked about the signpost method. A sign in front of the castle or other item has a QR code. The user knows what a QR code is, scans it, and enters the system. Variant version, a paper map has the QR code. In both of these, no Wikipedia app is necessary but the sticker on the signpost (or paper) is.
Second, the points of interest app version. The phone is running an app that knows its location, either by AI recognition or more likely by GPS. App sounds a gong and user looks to see what's here. No sticker, but the user must have installed and started the app.
Third, the robot tour guide. The app knows its location, and suggests a route. "Walk ahead 30m and turn left towards the statue" same as an automobile navigating app, but when you're there, it asks whether you want to know about the place you have reached. In younger years I was sometimes a tour guide here in New York, and I'm sure the roboguide won't be as smart as I was, but not every tourist was lucky enough to have me. No sticker; app yes.
Fourth, the WikiShootMe model. Being a Wikiphotographer, I often open that page when I'm walking in a place not close to home. It shows a map with my location and various green and red dots for places that have, or don't have, a Wikiphoto. I snap and upload a picture and the red dot becomes green. Based on that idea, use an app that shows all the nearby Wikipedia articles so you can tap on the item before or after going there. Again no sticker, and again yes it needs the user to install the app. Jim.henderson (talk) 01:46, 1 November 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Thank you @Jim.henderson for the idea of the map. This is an amazing idea and can be very useful in historic cities like the old towns listed as World Heritage e.g. the medina of Tunis in Tunisia, median of Fez in Morocco or Stone Town in Zanzibar, etc. These cities can be described as an open air museum with several building/monuments documented on Wikipedia. Displaying a map of these buildings/monuments can be used as an audio guide! I really like this and we will try to implement it asap under this url:
The map can't be used in closed spaces like museums and in this case an app can be built using AI to recognize the displayed items (in case there is no QR code displayed).
Thanks Yamen (talk) 23:10, 4 November 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Interesting idea with QR, there are a few comments:
1. The Svg format is not as often used as some others (JPEG), as far as I understand. This may be a problem for some readers.
2. It is not clear whether this will work with “suspicious” IP (such as URL-shortener). Any reader can get “suspicious” IP. See also Wikipedia:Blocking IP addresses#Problems and solutions [1][2].
3. This is only for the desktop version, as far as I understand (less than 50% page views).
4. It is not clear how users will pay attention to it. More over, if it is promoted, it will mislead users of the mobile site (see 3.)--Proeksad (talk) 11:21, 30 October 2023 (UTC)[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0