This won’t be the first time I geek out over Wikipedia or a related app. I’m a huge advocate for the repository of all human knowledge (I will go toe-to-toe with any high school teacher over the veracity of Wikipedia as a source), as both an academic utility and a great way for those of us who learn for fun to expand our knowledge. Wikipedia is a vast and powerful outlet of information, and lately it has been really exciting to see how app developers come up with new ways to navigate and grasp that information.
Today we’re going to take a look at Wikiweb, an iOS application from Friends of The Web whose unique approach to Wikipedia aims to help you visualize the relationships between various topics and pages. Grab some coffee, sit back with your iPad and get ready to learn something new after the jump.
Pardon the pun. The interface of Wikiweb is immediately recognizable as minimal and clean, making the content of Wikipedia your focus anytime you use the app.
The relationships between various Wikipedia pages are displayed in the map pane, with each article represented as a node in a familiar mind-map style format. This view is so useful in opening and exploring topic pages that the page viewer itself seems almost secondary. So first, let’s go over how it works.
If you tap the magnifying glass in the upper left corner (the universal symbol for search, by now), you can begin typing a search term, which will serve as your starting place on an educational scavenger hunt across Wikipedia. Also available from this screen is the Random Topic button, which is just as useful as ever for stumbling into interesting topics. After selecting a topic from the drop down, it will appear as a singular node in the center of the screen. You can tap and hold the node, and the accompanying article will slide in from the right in the article viewer pane that is easily hidden via swiping (more on that later).
If you simply single tap briefly on a node, all of the related topics (which, as far as I can tell, are determined by linked pages within the article’s text) will spring out from the center node in mind-map style. If you’re anything like me, things can get out of control relatively quickly, since previously opened nodes stay open.
It’s also neat to note that when you open a node, any connections that can be made with existing nodes will form a bridge between themselves.
In the event that you’re trying to build a coherent mind-map that others may view, you can remove irrelevant nodes by double tapping on them — they will simply vanish.
Of course, as with any respectable app of the 21st century, the Share button is located in the upper left corner of the screen. Send your mind-map web of topics to your friends with Twitter or email.
The Article Viewer
I suppose that the most important part of Wikipedia is the content, so let’s spend a second talking about how Wikiweb deals with it.
The first thing you’ll notice is the clean and minimal display pane for the article itself. The typography is notably attractive, and the text size is variable for ease of use. The back and forward buttons allow you to navigate from topic to topic within your web without having to switch back to the web pane. Finally, as with any well-equipped Wikipedia app, a table of contents springs up if you tap the associated icon at the bottom of the screen. It’s complete with expanding subsections and links to references and external resources as well.
On the smaller iPhone screen, Wikiweb won’t be able to display both the article view and the web view simultaneously. The app was useful, but admittedly felt slightly more constricted than using it’s iPad counterpart.
As partial as I am to learning, Wikipedia can often serve as a source of entertainment for me, quite like some might use the popular Internet discovery service StumbleUpon. I’ve spent hours at a time wandering through the depths of information and trying to figure out how I got from Mediterranean Cuisine to Postmodern Dadaism.
Wikiweb takes that experience one step further with the fascinating ability to map your journey through the various topics you will explore. Frankly, the real value in Wikipedia is the capacity that it has to teach you something you didn’t know you wanted to know, so Wikiweb’s ability to function as a research tool that can help you deliberately map out your thoughts and arguments is more of a bonus than anything.
Wikiweb is a beautifully lightweight iOS app that makes learning fun, which is something for which I will always give an app a lot of credit. At $4.99, it isn’t necessarily the cheapest Wikipedia app available on your iPhone (it is a universal app, however), but it is one of the most fun of such apps that I’ve ever used. Let us know what you think if you decide to give it a spin!