Sawtpedia: Giving a Voice to Wikipedia Using QR Codes

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A new tool to bridge the gap between our physical surroundings and the digital realm came to existence 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.

User:Yamen CC-BY-SA-4.0

In this blog 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 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.

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This is great news and a super interesting story. Well-done @Yamen and to everyone who made this possible.
Quick question: Do the recorded versions get updated with article improvements?