Exploring Your Surroundings With Wikihood for the iPad

The ubiquity of the internet and availability of a high speed connection wherever you are has undoubtedly been an awesome boost for tourism! A huge number of apps have surfaced that try to bring all relevant local information to your fingertips.

One smart way of doing this is to basically tie up Google Maps – a standard compendium of geographical data – and Wikipedia – a standard compendium of knowledge about places. This is exactly what Wikihood has done, let’s see if it’s any good.

Getting Started

While I usually leave the pricing for last, this time I’ll get some if out of the way right now. Wikihood comes in a free and a paid version. The free version does not show the “geography” and “economy” categories related to locations and doesn’t allow you to search Wikipedia from within Wikihood. I suggest trying out the free version before you buy the paid one, you’ll see why in a moment.

There are two ways to use this app. When you fire it up you’ll have to let it determine your current location, but after that you can click the magnifying glass in the top left to search for any location. I quite like the map view where I can just position the target over any place in the world. Once you’ve loaded your current location or chosen one the information from Wikipedia will load up and you can start to take a look at all the wonderful things around you.

Things to see around my neighborhood.

Information Display

The results you get will be ordered by distance, which is pretty convenient if you want to visit points of interest close by. You can also order the list by relevance – not quite sure how this works – but I did get a fairly interesting list whenever I tried it.

Another way to look at the list is by rating. I didn’t find this to be particularly useful; as even in places like London and Manhattan ratings are scarce.

Looking at the map view, however, is great because it allows you to visualize where things are so you can plan a route. This is helpful in my city (Budapest) since a river splits the city in two. While the Parliament would be shown to be around 2.5km away it’s actually 4.5-ish, (unless you can fly there).

The map view is a useful tool when planning a route.

Each result you receive is directly linked to one Wiki article and depending on the content therein, it might also show related links like people, geography, culture and buildings, and economy. If there are no related links, clicking on the item will take you straight the Wiki article in the app. If there are related articles clicking on the item will show you a breakdown of the related entries.

This is a bit confusing as the same action sometimes takes you to a Wiki page, and sometimes it doesn’t, but once you realize how it works it’s actually a nice way of browsing.

You can see if an item has related entries by looking at the icons in its top bar.

Information Richness

While the app does a reasonable job of displaying info, the actual amount of information is somewhat lacking. I would venture to guess that part of this is not the app’s fault, we just don’t have enough Wiki knowledge yet.

The problems are twofold.

  1. The first – which is the app’s fault – is that the items I get for a search cut off after about 2km (1.25 mi) with no options to load more. I am well capable of walking more that 2km at a time to get to someplace really interesting. In my eyes cutting it off at this distance kind of defeats the purpose of the whole app.
  2. The other problem is that the app is not very useful once you get out of the frequently visited areas. In any arbitrary national park or miscellaneous area there are always things like an old well, or a castle ruin – Wikihood is not great at helping you look around in the countryside. This stems from holes in Wikipedia’s knowledge so I can’t blame this on Wikihood, but it still diminishes its usefulness.

Overview

After using it for a while I would say that the app is moderately useful. This is definitely THE way to go for this kind of local information searching, but right now buying a guide book and using Google Maps manually will give you much more information. The best use of Wikihood is as a quick guide when you first arrive somewhere, or as an ad-hoc “I have a free hour, what should I do” kind of app.

Due to this I would not recommend buying the paid version, which is a whopping $6.99 and doesn’t provide that much added functionality. In many cases variations of the geography and economy categories can be found in the other categories and even if not, the usefulness of these for tourism is not that great. You can of course get to any of the economy and geography articles by going into the main entry anyway.

The free version should be enough for most people and until I get at least 8-10 hits in relatively remote places I won’t really make much use of the app on a daily basis when on holiday. If you want a quick glimpse into a location or want to read about things around you then it is a great tool though! The free version offers a lot of useful functionality, but I wouldn’t even give the paid version a second glance…


Summary

Wikihood is an application which pulls data from Wikipedia to give you information about the things around you; such as landmarks, geography, economy and so on.

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