Qwiki Comes to the iPad: Still Useless


Qwiki, the service that reads Wikipedia articles out aloud for you, has now arrived on the iPad. While the app features a very slick packaging, it’s still hard to imagine why somebody would prefer to hear a robotic voice read these articles out aloud over just reading them.

It’s no secret that I’ve been very critical of the hype around Qwiki. I’ll be the first to admit that the service provides a nice visual experience – especially on the iPad. It gathers image from the base Wikipedia article and articles linked to from there and then displays them in a dynamic slide show. On the iPad, the narration is even relatively good, but just like all text-to-speech services, it quickly becomes annoying.

In its promotional video, Qwiki says that it “combines thousands of sources into beautiful, narrated presentations” and that it’s the “future of information consumption.” In reality, of course, the only sources it uses are Wikipedia and, in the iPad version, Apple’s app store. Qwiki features an “app of the day” section on its iPad homepage, where, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, the App Store itself is today’s featured app.

The app also puts a strong emphasis on maps and location. This is a nicely realized feature, but just like everything else in Qwiki, the emphasis is more on style than usefulness. When you are traveling, for example, are you going to stand on the Mall in Washington with your headphones on to listen to a Qwiki narration, or are you going to quickly read up on the Washington Monument and move on with your life?


The problem here, of course, is that having text read to you is a highly inefficient way of consuming information. In the time Qwiki takes to read you a few sentences, you could easily read through multiple Wikipedia articles yourself.

Related Story: Hacker Shows It Doesn’t Take $8 Million to Clone Qwiki – Just 321 Lines of HTML Will do the Trick

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Hacker Shows It Doesn’t Take $8 Million to Clone Qwiki – Just 321 Lines of HTML Will do the Trick


Qwiki is an app that creates pretty slideshows based on Wikipedia entries. The service won the top award at the last Techcrunch Disrupt conference and just received $8 million in new funding from a group led by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

Personally, I never understood why putting together a text-to-speech engine with a Ken Burns effect was disruptive. The VCs on the Disrupt jury thought different, though, and chose this pretty but ultimately utterly useless service over really disruptive ones like CloudFlare. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so. Now, just to show how Qwiki didn't merit the large new round of funding and how it doesn't deserve the constant hype on tech blogs like Techcrunch, an intrepid hacker who goes by the name of "Banksy the Lucky Stiff" put together Fqwiki, a workable Qwiki clone in just 321 Lines of HTML.

In the source code, the developer clearly references that the reason for this project was to show how easy it is to implement the basic functionality of Qwiki: "This code is not pretty, but it doesn't need to be. It's only been 6 hours, but based on funding patterns I should be able to raise a few million off of this ;)." The first demo of Fqwiki you see after opening the site is its rendition of the Wikipedia entry for "snake oil."

Fqwiki works best in Safari and Chrome, isn't quite as visually pleasing as Qwiki and is still quite buggy. As a smart critique of Qwiki and the hype around it, it definitely fulfills its purpose already, though.

Indeed, more so than a product, Fqwiki is a comment on the current state of VC funding and tech blogging. Qwiki is a very pretty product, but it's hard to see why it deserves the funding and attention it has been receiving. As of now, it only reads out Wikipedia entries and pulls matching pictures from articles that were linked to from the original Wikipedia entry. It's hard to imagine a situation where you would prefer seeing a Wikipedia slideshow (which, like all good slideshows, takes way too long) over just reading the article.

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