Innovation That Matters

Video dictionary with a wiki touch

Publishing & Media

Inspired by the way Wikipedia changed the encyclopedia with its online format and user-contributed content, a new digital dictionary hopes to change the way the world articulates and understands the meanings of words. Launched two weeks ago, Wordia is a visual dictionary that encourages members of the public to contribute to a collective pool of video definitions. As with any online dictionary, users can search for the traditional meaning of a word thanks to the involvement of HarperCollins with 76,000 words and 120,000 basic textual definitions. But appended to an increasing number of those traditional definitions are videos–both professionally produced and user-generated–expressing individuals’ own, personal meanings for the words in question. Look up “purple,” for instance, and two young “orators” tell you that it means “wacky… and kinda deep and mysterious… spiritual… agitated… royal… eggplant?” Search on “nascent,” and you’ll get a video definition featuring Michael Birch, the Bebo founder who is now supporting Wordia. The site’s founders explain: “We’ve found that this visualisation works; place a word into context visually and it helps you to recollect its meaning much more easily then a textual definition. The ‘author’ breathes life into it–and their video acts as an easy-to-remember reference–an aide memoire or mnemonic as it were.” Powered by YouTube and supported by the Open University and the National Literacy Trust, the ad-funded site also lets users rate and comment on videos. It’s easy to imagine etymologists objecting to a site like Wordia. After all, even Wikipedia relies on citations, references and volunteer editors to maintain at least some level of credibility and authoritativeness; relying on everyday users to define language in a purely subjective way risks severing the connection with the words’ true, objective meanings. On the other hand, there’s certainly a distinct entertainment value to searching through Wordia’s video definitions, which may even be able to reflect nuances and modern interpretations of words in ways traditional definitions can’t. Wordia is currently available only in English; one to partner with for other languages?



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