New Wikipedia Redesign Is Coming Soon

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.