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Monmouth, Wales, becomes world's first Wikipedia town

May 17, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • QR codes like this one on Shire Hall dot the town of Monmouth, Wales.
QR codes like this one on Shire Hall dot the town of Monmouth, Wales. (Creative Commons )

Planning to visit the historic town of Monmouth, Wales? Don't forget your smartphone.

The town, established in 1067 and the birthplace of King Henry V, has embraced the future by agreeing to become the first Wikipedia town in the world.

As of next Saturday, if you travel to Monmouth, you'll find the area dotted with small ceramic plaques and stickers bearing black-and-white QR codes. Snap a picture of the QR code with your smartphone, and you'll be directed to a Wikipedia page filled with more information than a normal sign could possibly contain.

Additionally, the QR codes will display the Wikipedia content in the language of the phone. So a French-speaking visitor to Monmouth who snaps a picture of a QR code outside a museum will be directed to a Wikipedia article in French. A Hindi-speaking person taking a picture of the same QR code would be directed to the article in Hindi.

Where in town will these QR codes be? Essentially everywhere. John Cummings, the local project leader, said visitors to Monmouth would see ceramic plaques on buildings, near rivers, on landmarks and in museums. Shopkeepers are displaying stickers with QR codes in their stores to give the histories of their profession and the items they sell.

"It is an interesting experiment in how comprehensive an area can be covered by Wikipedia," Cummings said in an email interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Roger Bamkin, director of Wikimedia UK, a charity that supports Wikipedia's mission, said it took about six months for the project to come together.

Wikimedia and the Monmouthshire County Council had originally agreed to split the cost of the project 50-50, but the council wound up paying more because it also decided to sponsor free Wi-Fi access in the town.

Bamkin said Wikimedia's contribution was about 25,000 pounds, or $40,000.

Lots of volunteer work was involved, including about 450 new Wikipedia articles about Monmouth that were written by volunteers all over the world.

"We've got a guy in Hungary who wrote six articles in Hungarian and a girl in Russia who wrote 30 or 40 articles in Russian," he said. "We also had a guy in France who wrote several articles in Latin, and most of the Hindi articles were written in America."

Monmouth was a good choice for the first Wikipedia town because it is relatively small but filled with historical significance, so there was a good but not overwhelming amount to write about.

In the future, look for Wikipedia to take over much larger towns. Since the project was announced earlier this year, people from Mexico City and New York have expressed interest in turning their cities into Wikipedia towns too, said Bamkin.

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