Qwiki, a technology company backed by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin that took TechCrunch's $50,000 Disrupt Award in 2010, launched late last year and pushed into Alpha this January. Today, Qwiki, often likened to a Visual Wikipedia, is launching its first iPad App.
Both the site and iPad app synthesize topic-based text, movies and images into slick, media-heavy slideshows that mix Ken Burns-style zooms with a robot voiceover that reminds us of the xtranormal videos. All of the backend aggregation and synthesis is automated; simply type in your query and Qwiki will serve up one of its millions of database articles including everything from David Cross and BoingBoing to the Wars of the Roses and Apple's iOS.
Each Qwiki entry, dubbed a Qwiki, mixes abbreviated Wikipedia text with media from around the Web, ranging from Google Maps data and YouTube videos to image results. Users can help improve results by suggesting relevant videos, photos, etc. -- for example, you can suggest essential live Byrds videos or tour photos on the band's entry.
The iPad app sets itself apart from the website with an exploration feature that lets you browse Google Maps that have been annotated with Qwiki entries. For example, New York City has tappable entries on neighborhoods, landmarks, and notable buildings and institutions. It's momentarily interesting, but aggregating local reviews, news listings, Yelp ratings and other location-specific data into Qwikis would enrich the maps and make them truly useful for locals. The app ran fine on our first generation iPad, moving quickly between maps, Qwiki entries and menus, and Qwiki's bold, grid-oriented design is adapted seamlessly from the web to the tablet screen.
While we doubt Qwiki's utility at breaking news or diving into a topic's specifics, it does compress the first steps of researching a new topic (i.e. quick Wikipedia, map, and Google image searches) into a quick, accessible summary. The backend technology driving the media synthesis is definitely impressive, but despite advances in computer voice tech it's hard to listen to more than five minutes of Qwiki's painfully dry robot voice. Qwiki might provide a "quicky" way to grasp the basics on everything from the corvidae family of birds to the The Daily Show, but it's got a long way to go before earning a spot in our go-to list of reference tools.
The app is available for free on the iTunes store.