The Makeover Is Less Clunky and More User-Friendly in 318 Languages
Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia and one of the world’s most visited websites, has gotten its first interface makeover in a decade. The result is a less-cluttered, more user-friendly web platform consistent with Wikipedia’s mobile counterpart.
Wikipedia launched January 15, 2001 as a free internet-based encyclopedia with open-source management and collaborative software known as wiki. For historical reference, Facebook went live in 2004. Twitter’s first tweet came in March 2006. Google was created in late 1998 and didn’t become popular until 2000.
The Wikipedia Foundation, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that oversees Wikipedia, engaged volunteer groups in 30 countries to provide insights to inform the website update. One of the changes is an improved search box that yields visual as well as verbal suggestions.
Many of the updates are subtle but are intended to speed up searches. Test runs showed searches averaged 30 percent faster, which can be significant for someone on deadline or who is conducting a wide-ranging search.
Another subtle change that will benefit frequent users is an updated sticky header that remains pinned to the top of the page. The objective is to decrease scroll rates, which testing showed it did by 15 percent.
The revised layout is cleaner and looks more like contemporary web pages. There is a table of contents on the left side of the page that aids user navigation. The language-switching tool now claims a more prominent position that is easier to find. A collapsible sidebar was added to allow users to read content with less distraction or to switch to a wider text box. The default font size was increased for ease of reading.
The makeover addresses the most common criticism that Wikipedia can be clunky to use. The new page layout improves usability by putting more resources just a click away.
The teams working on the update were mindful to avoid disruptive changes for a site offering 58 million articles and viewed 16 billion times every month. The new web format rolled out gradually for all its 318 languages.
Wikipedia’s self-description is a “multilingual free online encyclopedia written” maintained by a community of 280,000 volunteer editors, known as Wikipedians. The English version has more than 45 million users who have registered a username.
Critics have questioned Wikipedia’s factual reliability, article readability and fact-checking methodology, largely because of its user-generated content and lack of a rigorous fact-checking process. Wikipedia’s open editing process also has drawn criticism for allowing biased or “revenge editing” of profiles. Wikipedia does have a fact-checking procedure to detect and remove false or inappropriate content. The large user community serves as a filter to catch and correct misinformation.
Some people shy away from Wikipedia because they view it as the CliffsNotes version of an encyclopedia. In its own defense, Wikipedia says its content is increasingly used by the academic community, from students to professors, as an “easily accessible third resource” for other studies or references. Writers aren’t identified so their biases, if any, are unknown to users who access and rely on the content.
The most controversial Wikipedia page is the one for President George W. Bush. It has been edited 45,862 times since 2004 and the invasion of Iraq. President Barack Obama’s entry received half as many edits. Other highly edited pages belong to Michael Jackson, Jesus, Adolph Hitler, Britney Spears and WWE wrestlers.
Wikipedia Use and Users
Data indicates Wikipedia is a resource tapped by every age group – 26 percent of users are between 22 and 29 years old, 19 percent between 30 and 39 and 28 percent are older than 40.
Users who draw on Wikipedia as a quick, usually reliable information aid often lament some of its prosaic writing. Frequent users also can be perplexed when relevant references are missing.
Whether they admit it or not, many people use Wikipedia as a quick reference to check a fact, recall key dates or confirm how to spell a name. If you take the time, you can be impressed by the depth and clarity of some of its entries on forgotten or obscure subjects. In researching a story about the history of the Javelin shoulder-launched missile for a colleague, it was interesting to find a Wikipedia entry that was thorough, detailed and included citations. The entry underscored Wikipedia’s mantra that it provides “the second draft of history”.
Because it is based on user-sourced entries, Wikipedia can be plucky, as the Russians discovered. It has remained one of the few fact-checked Russian-language information sources since Russia invaded Ukraine. The Wikimedia Foundation has gone to court in the United Kingdom to defend its articles that include “The Russian Invasion of Ukraine”, “War Crimes during the Russian Invasion of Ukraine” and “Massacre in Bucha”. A Russian court has demanded the articles be removed and fined the Foundation for the equivalent of $88,000.
“This [Russian] decision implies that well-sourced, verified knowledge on Wikipedia that is inconsistent with Russian government accounts constitutes disinformation,” according to Stephen LaPorte, Associate General Counsel at the Wikimedia Foundation, adding that people everywhere “have a right to know the facts of the war.”
Whether they admit it or not, many people use Wikipedia as a quick reference to check a fact, recall key dates or confirm how to spell a name.
Wikipedia enthusiasts compiled a list of its unique impact. For example, Italian researchers found Wikipedia pages about holiday destinations can increase tourism in a featured city by almost 10 percent. There is something called the Wikimedia Cuteness Association that promotes plush toys. There is also a Wikipedia-theme line of apparel. An asteroid is named Wikipedia.
Millions of people annually donate to sustain Wikipedia. More than 18,000 people sponsored 1,260 events called Art + Feminism edit-a-thons to update 84,000 separate articles. One obsessed editor made 47,000 edits to replace the phrase “comprised of” on Wikipedia pages. More than 60,000 individuals from 40 countries have contributed 1,7 million images of cultural heritage. Wikipedia is edited by someone, somewhere at a rate of 1.9 edits per second.
The first person to receive a Wikipedia page was 18th century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid. One of the first Wikipedia articles featured the standard poodle that said, “A dog by which all others are measured.” The same entry today contains 6,000 words and references derivative breeds – “Labradoodle, Poochon, Cockapoo, Spoodle, Maltipoo, Goldendoodle, Schnoodle, Pekapoos, Cavapoo, and Bernedoodle.”