Stephen Fry lends his voice to Wikipedia, encourages others to do the same

The Wikipedia Voice Intro Project aims to preserve notable individuals' voices, as well as explain how their names are pronounced

Although we think of Wikipedia as a distinctly contemporary phenomenon, editors at the encyclopaedia say they are always thinking of the future.

As part of their bid to ensure that Wikipedia will provide a worthy archive for future generations they have launched the Wikipedia Voice Intro Project (WikiVIP), an initiative encouraging individuals who are the subject of articles to make a short recording of their voice.

In the future, Wikipedia wants to make sure users are not only able to read about notable figures but hear them speak as well. The audio clips will also solve the problem of informing readers how to pronounce individuals’ names, without resorting to the confusing International Phonetic Alphabet.

The new project has been given a boost by a tweet and a newly-recorded audio introduction from writer and comedian Stephen Fry.

As well as volunteered audio recordings from notable individuals Wikipedia is also working with the BBC on a similar scheme (the BBC Voice Project) to extract audio clips from BBC programmes. This would be the first time that BBC have openly licensed any content from their broadcast programs.

Wikipedia says that the BBC clips are identified by volunteers and then sent over to the broadcaster for reviewing and processing. These clips are then uploaded to Wikimedia Commons in the .flac format, a high-definition alternative to MP3s.

The roster of individuals currently sampled is eclectic in terms of both occupation and subject matter, ranging from Benedict Cumberbatch discussing an early experience with horse-riding to Aung San Suu Kyi speaking about life in Burma.

Matthew Postgate, the Controller of Research and Development at the BBC, says that the project will provide a testing-ground for the BBC algorithms used to generate "useful information such as topics or places mentioned in the programmes" .

"As these processes can also identify voice patterns, we saw a great opportunity to run a trial with Wikipedia enthusiasts, giving them access to our technology and an audio archive full of notable figures," says Postgate.

"As part of this experiment we are releasing around 500 - 1000 short voice samples of prominent public figures to Wikimedia. We hope this will allow us to identify contributions in BBC programmes from the sound of speakers’ voices and when added to relevant Wikipedia pages these voice samples add a new dimension, allowing listeners to hear the voices of the people they're reading about."

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