The 80’s were all about the computer, even bigger than our imaginations. The 90’s introduced us to the internet, that nostalgic dial-up song. The 2000’s ushered in mobile everything. The 2010’s took us to “streams” and “clouds.” The 2020’s are ushering in the age of AI, and all the while, audio as a medium has remained in tune with the times.
The past few years have seen an increasing diversification of content in the realm of audio, from podcasts to virtual voice assistants. For many, seeking information–from quick trivia to a metaphysical conundrum–has transpired to a listening experience. Wikimedia content– whether accessed directly, via search engines, or behind the scenes–is everywhere too, forming the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of knowledge. However, our content, the contributions of thousands of volunteers for more than twenty two years, is not often identified correctly. A sound logo is a brief and memorable collection of sounds usually between 1 and 4 seconds. Our sound logo will be a new way to identify Wikimedia content across a range of auditory uses and devices.
The search for the Sound of all Human Knowledge
The Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees gave a mandate to improve the identification of our content on audio devices. A global contest like no other was set up to achieve this goal. Shani Evenstein Sigalov, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Community Affairs Committee, shares: “The way people engage with information and knowledge is always evolving. As a long time community member and academic, I take attributing content and identifying sources seriously. This is also an important movement value for all Wikimedians. From the Board’s perspective, it is essential that listeners on audio devices have an opportunity to learn about the trusted source of their information, especially when it comes from our movement and is contributed by thousands of volunteers. As a trained musician, I personally had a keen interest in this effort since its conception, and was grateful to take part in contributing to it. It is wonderful to see it come to fruition in the same collaborative and open spirit that defines our movement. Having a sound logo is an important milestone, one that will play a critical role in giving our volunteers the recognition and credit they deserve.”
In a process spanning more than a year and inspired by the movement’s experience of visual logo contests, the Sound Logo team together with Wikimedians, engaged with audio professionals and sound enthusiasts around the world, created an online collection of sounds, had on-wiki conversations, hosted community calls, organized workshops in sound editing and audio production, attended virtual and in-person community events, and even created listening booths.
Contest for the Sound of all Human Knowledge
Global contest, community vote
During the month-long contest between September and October, 2022, 3,235 sound logos were submitted by 2,094 participants in 135 countries. Per community curiosity, we shared random batches of submissions weekly as they were coming in. The interpretations of the creative prompts were just fascinating – sounds of crowds and birds, pages turning, knocking on doors, drums, chimes, and gongs, vocals, mouse clicks, and typing on keyboards.
Luckily, we had help!!! Community members volunteered to screen submissions as they were coming in, and at the end, a selection committee of Wikimedians, in collaboration with audio professionals from the MassiveMusic network, presented us with 10 sound logos to vote on.
We thought to give the finalists a fair chance and prompted voters to listen to all 10 and order them according to their preferences. A strong method previously used in Wikimedia visual logo contests was selected to determine the winning sound. 2065 votes were cast with 76.7% of voters registered on Wikimedia Commons for more than a year. And now, officially, we have the winning sound.
Meet the creator of the winning sound: engineer by day, audio enthusiast by night
Thaddeus Osborne (he/him) is from Norfolk, Virginia, USA; nuclear engineer daytime and music producer otherwise. Music has comprised a large part of Thad’s life and imagination. With music, as a child, he could travel the world right from his parents’ smalltown backyard. So creating a sound logo for the global projects attempting to share the sum of human knowledge was a natural endeavor.
Like many, Thad uses Wikipedia regularly, whether to look up trivia or learn more about an important topic at work. To him, the Wikimedia movement represents salvation: “Without reliable and accessible knowledge, we as a species will not be able to live up to our full potential. The more answers and information available to us the better we can tackle big problems,” he wrote for his contest submission.
Amongst the creative prompts, “Knowledge Growing” was one that resonated the most with Thad. He conceptualized the sound logo based on what knowledge consumption and seeking information mean to him, with the growing crescendo effect of wanting more, that unquenchable human thirst for learning. Thad also wanted to create a sound logo beyond just a catchy melody, rather one that combined multiple elements and painted an auditory picture. He recorded himself flipping through textbooks and novels, typing away on his keyboard, and clicking his mouse, added a C-major chord, and finished off with a melody that to him sounded like “Wikimedia.” In his own words:
“My sound logo welcomes its audience into a world of information. The sound of a page turning quickly becomes a library like a whirlwind of typing, clicking, and paper rustling that promises vast stores of wisdom followed by a friendly invitation. This is what I perceive the Wikimedia movement to be about, the open and encouraged sharing of knowledge. Lots and lots of knowledge.”
Now the Sound Logo Team will work with our partner MassiveMusic to professionally re-record the winning sound with the winner Thad. Later this year, we will continue working with voice assistant and technology partners to adopt the winning logo to better identify Wikimedia content worldwide. As well, we will prepare the sound logo for deployment and create different audio specifications for varied usages. For example, a 2-second version, perfect as an audio footnote on social media content, or a longer 60-second version that communities could use for event videos and outreach.
The sound logo will join a suite of more than 2500 protected trademarks alongside the “Wikipedia” and “Wikimedia” community designed visual logos. This is an obligation of the Wikimedia Foundation as the movement’s brand steward and an important first step towards ensuring that our sound logo is not only reflective of Wikimedia’s reputation for trusted, human-centered, reliable, and accessible knowledge for the world but also legally protected.
There is a wealth of information and resources to explore on the sound logo hub on Meta Wiki. Watch this space for updates. Thank you for helping us reach and celebrate this moment together.
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