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Summary:

Wikipedia says it is close to rolling out a new design for the site that it hopes will make the encyclopedia easier to use for new visitors and will encourage more contributions. The new design, code-named Vector, will start to be rolled out in April.

Wikipedia is close to rolling out a new design that it hopes will make the “user-edited” encyclopedia easier to use and navigate, and thus potentially appeal to new users more than the slightly clunky-looking current site. A note from the User Experience team at the Wikimedia blog says the new design — code-named “Vector” — will be launched on April 5 for all users who visit Wikimedia Commons, the media repository for the encyclopedia. If that goes well, the redesign will then be rolled out to all users of the English version of Wikipedia and then to versions of the site in other languages. As described by Naoko Komura of the user experience team, the main changes to the design are:

  • “Editing pages will be easier, thanks to a new editing toolbar that makes it easier to insert links and tables, and a built-in “cheatsheet” to access help for the most commonly used functions.”
  • “All users will also see that the site layout has changed noticeably. We’ve simplified the site navigation, relocated the search box to satisfy user expectations and to follow other web standards, reduced some of the clutter, and made sure that the new features work with different resolutions, browser formats, and window sizings.”

Early versions of the Vector design have been available to beta users of Wikipedia — in other words, anyone who creates an account and then chooses the “try beta” link at the top right of the home page — for several months, while the user experience group has been tweaking the design. Once the design is fully rolled out, even users who aren’t logged in will see it (logged-in users will be able to revert to the older design if they wish).

One of the parts of the redesign the encyclopedia has changed substantially is the view of a page that users see when they are editing it, with simplified tools that Wikipedia hopes will make it easier for people to figure out how to change information and add new information to a page. There have been concerns about slowing growth at the encyclopedia, something that was the subject of a presentation by journalism professor Andrew Lih at the recent SXSW conference. The user experience blog post says:

Our overarching objective is to make it easier to find and contribute knowledge in Wikipedia and its sister projects. Volunteer participation is the essence of everything we do; our job is to facilitate and support that volunteer work. Continually improving the experience our projects is now a core mandate of the Wikimedia Foundation.

The group has technical details about the redesign on its technical blog as well as a Q&A on its Usability wiki page.

  1. Thanks for covering this.

    While the new skin will be the most obvious change to readers, you’re correct to point out that the substantial changes will be in the usability improvements for editors.

    As you can check out on usability.wikimedia.org and its various related test wikis, this is going to be a relatively radical advance for Wikipedia. Stuff like live previews and dialog boxes to assist editing might be ho-hum for the rest of the Web, but this really could make things easier for newbies.

    One important example is “template folding”, which is still pretty rough but is on its way. Template folding means the long, complex bits of markup that create the infoboxes at the beginning of articles will be tucked away and turned into a form-based dialog box (with regular markup accessible for diehards).

    In user testing, those templates were one of the biggest barriers to editing. While the site isn’t going to go WYSIWYG anytime soon, things like template folding will make the site friendlier for everyone.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Steven. I agree that hiding some of the markup should make a difference for new users — the redesign looks cleaner and is easier on the eyes as well.

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  2. Wikipedia’s new design is really good.. But I wish that they make the page a bit more user friendly.. Like when users who want information view the page, it must look like a real nice and simple encyclopaedia.. There should be just a small button to edit the text.. Once they go into the edit mode, other options should be provided.. That would make it look a lot more simpler for people looking for information from the world’s famous encyclopaedia..

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  3. dreamsburnred Thursday, March 25, 2010

    Meh. Still will have the editors that revert your edits just because they can.

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    1. so true. but that’s just the way it is/will be shrug

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  4. Wikipedia’s new design is really good. Thank you.

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  5. awesome. i can’t wait to see the changes..

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  6. And about time! I always found it baffling that what is arguably the most important publication of our time is encumbered with an editing interface that would alienate all but the staunchest Unix hackers…

    Looking at the beta, though, I suspect it isn’t enough. What’s stopping them from deploying – at least as an option – a UI similar to the WYSIWYG word processors that are what most non-techie users out there feel comfortable with?

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    1. That’s a good question, Nathan — perhaps they don’t want to make it too easy to edit :-)

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      1. Yep, Mathew, I had that thought… though using a bar of geekness to control who can add content is hardly optimal. Maybe they should have a little spelling test on the way to the editor instead – if you can’t spell Potato you can’t edit?… :-)

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    2. Nathan,

      What’s preventing an easy switch to WYSIWYG? There are 15 million articles across all the languages of Wikipedia, and that doesn’t include the millions of discussion pages and other errata.

      That’s a ton of data, and because of the way the MediaWiki parser (the thing that turns markup into readable text) is built, there is very real potential for corrupting that data in switching to a full WYSIWYG system.

      For Wikipedia, losing/destroying any of our work would be a catastrophe, so we’re holding off on full WYSIWYG in favor of tackling other usability problems identified in testing.

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      1. Thanks for the clarification, Steven!

        I’m not making light of the complexity involved, mind you. However, I believe it’s important enough to warrant working – slowly and carefully as dictated by the issues – on a solution. Good luck with it!

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  7. Interesting. Bing builds an overlay on the fly that I find useful at least from the research side. I’ve never tried to edit a Wikipedia article.
    Here ia link to the John Tate article used in the screen shots but using the Bing overlay: http://www.bing.com/reference/semhtml/John_Tate?sids=2&q=john+tate&qpvt=john+tate

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    1. That’s interesting, Scott — thanks.

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