Discover: Wikipedia Like You’ve Never Seen It

If the vast information repository that is the Internet were a solar system, Wikipedia might just be the sun (with Google being the rocket ship that takes us there). It’s the central element to most of our every day knowledge hunting expeditions. Any time you have a question to ask of the all-knowing Internet, there Wikipedia will be, sitting quietly near the beginning of your search results, holding the answer to your question.

Today’s app answers the question, “What if Wikipedia weren’t just an answer to our questions?” What if this great storehouse of knowledge could be transformed into an enjoyable daily reading experience that we visit for educational entertainment? Enter Discover — Wikipedia in a Magazine.

What Is Discover?

The simple explanation of Discover is that it is an iPad Wikipedia client. The content is not limited in any way and there’s really not much extra. However, rather than providing simply an efficient way to search and view Wikipedia, Discover provides an interface aimed at making the experience enjoyable.

The Cover

When you start the application, you’ll be brought to the cover page. This page is different every single day and highlights featured articles from various topics. Simply tap on the main image or a word in the sidebar to view the related article.

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Cover Page

Navigation

The navigation for Discover is somewhere between extremely intuitive and frustratingly difficult to get the hang of (I can’t quite decide which). In place of a central navigational menu system is a few swiping gestures that always take you to the same place.

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Instructions Page

For instance, from the home page, swiping right will bring you to the instructions page, swiping left will bring you to the picture of the day, swiping down will bring you to the search and swiping up will bring you to the history. We’ll see these features in action below.

Photo of the Day

As mentioned above, swiping left on the cover screen will bring you to the photo of the day. This simply grabs an image from the vast Wikipedia library and gives you an informational caption.

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Photo of the Day

Tapping on the image will bring you to the Wikipedia page related to that image. In the example above, tapping on the image brought up an article about the Pacific Black Duck.

Reading an Article

Whether you searched for an article or got to it from the cover or photo of the day, the experience is the same. If your iPad is in a vertical position, you’ll simply see the contents of the article. If it’s in a horizontal position, you’ll also see a series of icons linking to related articles.

Most Wikipedia articles are shown with a plain white background but a few of them, like the one shown below, have been designed to be a little more ornate. John Lennon’s Wikipedia profile contains an aged paper background and a stylized border.

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John Lennon's Wikipedia Page

The content is split up into individual pages that you swipe through just like in the iBooks app. For some reason, the information seems more manageable and enjoyable when it’s broken up into pages instead of being contained in one long, scrollable stream.

The interface does a fairly good job of remaining attractive but simple. It’s not the most beautiful app I’ve ever seen, but it is more interesting than your average Wikipedia page.

One of the first things that I noticed about the article pages is that there is no apparent way to navigate the entry. Wikipedia articles are divided up into clear sections to make what you’re looking for easier to find. After a bit of random experimenting I found that a pinch motion brings up the navigation screen shown below.

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Pinch to view the various sections of an article

Searching & History

The search screen is located above either your current article or the cover screen. The functionality is exactly what you’d expect: type in a query, find an article.

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Searching

Under the current article or cover screen you’ll find your history. This shows you all the articles you’ve looked at recently along with any cover/photo of the day screens you’ve seen. In lieu of an actual menu, this is your only way to navigate back to the cover page where the app begins.

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History

Both the history and search screens are a bit more attractive in landscape mode as they utilize icons rather than plain text results.

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Search and History in portrait mode

Revolutionary or Pointless?

Discover has found a permanent spot on my iPad. I don’t use it everyday, but I do think it’s a nice app and definitely worth pursuing as a free download. If you’re a Wikipedia junkie or just want to increase your intake of educational information, give it a shot.

My main problem with the app is the awkward navigation. Again, I think it’s meant to be simple but if you haven’t used the app in a while you have to learn where everything is all over again, which is pretty frustrating when you could be using Wikipanion or Articles instead. I would love to see even a basic menu implementation so that you can easily go where you need to without swiping in all directions to find the screen that you lost. It would also be nice if the app were universal and worked on the iPhone in addition to the iPad.

Go download Discover and try it yourself. Then leave a comment below and let us know what you think!


Summary

Discover is a fun and free app that puts a visual twist on Wikipedia by formatting the articles to look and read more like a magazine. It's definitely an enjoyable and fresh way to view your favorite encyclopedia.

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