Wikibot: Your Wikipedia Companion

Yes, the World Wide Web has unleashed a flurry of information on us all and we now have the World’s knowledge at our fingertips. I think we can all agree, that is awesome. There is, however, one problem.

The amount of information available on any topic imaginable is daunting, and we gravitate to sources that have some resemblance of organization and credibility to locate what we’re looking for. Wikipedia has become this source for a lot of people and we turn to it as the place for reference material or just to wander and learn. Wikibot is an iPad application that takes the core Wikipedia experience and attempts to add some functionality to make the resource even more useful. Let’s take a look at Wikibot and see just how successful it is.


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Design & Interface

I’m guessing it’s safe to say we’ve all been to Wikipedia and are quite familiar with the site.

Wikipedia is a monstrosity. The amount of information available is daunting to say the least. The website itself does a pretty solid job enabling simple browsing and exploration, but there is certainly some room for improvement.

Wikibot takes the content of Wikipedia and packages it up in a slightly different way, all while adding some very friendly features along the way (we’ll get more into those shortly). The application is essentially a web browser built specifically for Wikipedia.

Viewing an article about Honus Wagner

Viewing an article about Honus Wagner.

The design is super simple, if you’re aware of how the Safari browser works you’ll pickup up most of the features of Wikibot quickly. A large auto-fill search bar anchors the top of the application along with navigation buttons. Buttons that control other features also reside on this top control bar, which leaves you with nearly the entire screen for viewing content which is really what Wikipedia is all about, right?

Now searching for a Babe Ruth article

Now searching for a Babe Ruth article.

Features

I think it makes the most sense to think of Wikibot as an extension of a Wikipedia. Its features and functionality aim to make an already great resource and tool even better.

Navigation

While Wikibot doesn’t support tabbed browsing, it does support creating multiple pages. Think of the way Safari used to work on the iPad (pre-iOS 5) and the way the iPhone version of Safari still does. While tabbed browsing would have its benefits, it would remove some viewing real estate. Not a lot, but I’m not sure it would necessarily add that much more benefit.

The capability to create multiple pages is sufficient for me and solves whatever need I’d have with tabs.

Viewing the pages I have open.

Viewing the pages I have open.

Bookmarks

This feature has some commonalities to Safari bookmarks as well. At the basic level you’re able to create bookmarks for easier viewing later. You’re able to create folders to organize your bookmarks as well. There are however, a few cool additional bookmark features that are quite helpful.

The bookmarks menu.

The bookmarks menu.

Wikipedia is a crazy intertwined mess of links. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole and end up eight links from the topic you began. While this is a pretty cool and fun way to explore Wikipedia there are times when you want to simply make note to read something later. It’s not crucial to what you’re doing at the moment, but you’ve been intrigued and want to read it at some point.

By pressing and holding on any link a menu will appear and you’ll see an option to Read Later. I find this an incredibly useful feature. It keeps me from diverting down a path when I don’t need to. It would be easy enough to tap the link and open the page and then bookmark in and go back, but this is so much quicker and really minimizes the distraction.

My read later queue.

My read later queue.

The page will then appear in the Read Later folder in the bookmarks menu.

Within the Bookmarks menu you’ll see some other folders that can’t be deleted. You’ll see a History folder which does what you would think. It actually uses images which adds a little visual interest to browsing your history.

A view of my browsing history.

A view of my browsing history.

The Categories area appears to attempt to categorize the page you’re looking at and allows you to dig down deeper. It’s not completely evident how this works, but I was browsing a page on the baseball player Honus Wagner and was able to wander down all sorts of pertinent (and some not so pertinent) categories. Everything from 19th Century Baseball to 1955 Deaths.

Some strange categories may be pulled from what you’re looking at, but it’s still an interesting feature to encourage further exploration.

Categories generated from the Babe Ruth article.

Categories generated from the Babe Ruth article.

A Nearby folder will enable you to search for entries related to your current geographic location. This is kind of a fun feature and a cool way to explore a new place. Provided that you are physically located at that place when you want to explore.

Some articles from nearby me.

Some articles from nearby me.

And lastly there is a Random Article folder within the Bookmarks menu. This will take you to some random article entry. If you’re looking to kill a little time and want a push down the rabbit hole, this is your answer.

Most of these bookmark features are ones that you won’t get on the Wikipedia website. Sure, through some browser extensions and other Web services you could use to recreate some of this stuff, but the point is that it isn’t that easy and it’s all built right into the Wikibot application.

Table of Contents

An article page on the Wikipedia website will have a table of contents to help you navigate through the article. This works pretty well, but is far from perfect, especially if you’re viewing a large entry.

Wikibot has a button at the top of the viewing window what will drop down the article’s table of contents.

Viewing the table of contents for this article.

Viewing the table of contents for this article.

This seems like a pretty minor feature, but when you realize you don’t have to scroll all the way back up to the top of the page to view the table of contents it’s easy to see how awesome this little feature is.

Search, Sharing and Other Functionality

Sometimes there is a need to search for something specific within a Wikipedia entry. A web browser could accomplish this without too much difficulty if you’re aware of how to perform that function. Within Wikibot a search of the current article can be initiated by tapping a button on the right side of the menu. The button looks like a "share" type button, and that feature is there, but it also has a few others with search being one of them.

Starting a search.

Starting a search.

Starting a search will bring up the keyboard and you’ll enter the term to search. Wikibot will then highlight the term instances in yellow. You can then drop down the keyboard and a control bar appears at the bottom to let you jump from one instance to the next or start a new search. This is a nice feature that can help you to search for specific items quickly in a lengthy article.

Navigating all instances of my search term (Yankees).

Navigating all instances of my search term (Yankees).

There are some other features hidden away in this menu and they include adding a bookmark, opening the current page in Safari, the ability to lock the orientation, print an article or share it via Facebook, Twitter or email. These are all nice features, but my only gripe would be that they aren’t that easy to get to. I suspect that this decision was made to try to simplify and minimize the top control bar as much as possible. It’s not a major issue by any means, but I think there’s some room for improvement there.

Settings

Under the gear icon you’ll find some really nice display customization options. You can really customize how the information is displayed to you. Everything from font size (pinch zooming also changes this) to the actual font (pretty basic selection here, but it’s not a bad list) as well as brightness and margin width.

Showing the fonts section of the settings menu.

Showing the fonts section of the settings menu.

The overall theme is also changeable. As you’ll find in iBooks it is possible to change to a sepia or night theme from the default normal black text on white theme. This is a really great addition for someone who likes to spend a lot of time reading Wikipedia entries. I’ve become quite accustomed to using the night theme with iBooks so having that option here is fantastic.

Final Thoughts

Wikipedia is a wonderful source of information and a shining beacon of exactly why the World Wide Web is so great. It’s a great resource to do some research on just about anything, but it’s also fun to simply wander about and see what you can learn. It’s like one gigantic, essentially endless book.

Wikipedia by itself is wonderful, but Wikibot makes the experience of using it even better. There are many features that enable you to be a more efficient researcher and a whole bunch more that make exploring just that much easier and enjoyable.

At $2.99 Wikibot is a great purchase (there’s a lite version of you want to try it out too). I should add that it’s a universal app and that you’re able to sync with your iPhone app as well. Wikibot adds some actual tangible functionality to Wikipedia and for the Wikipedia nerd I’m not sure how you can avoid it. Even if you just periodically like to fall down the rabbit hole (like me) it’s still well worth the purchase.


Summary

Wikibot is an excellent companion to the amazing Wikipedia. Whether you're looking to do some serious research or simply wander about, Wikibot will enhance the experience.

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