Wikipedia user interface getting first overhaul

March 27, 2010

Users of the Wikipedia online user-maintained encyclopedia have been using the same basic user interface for what seems like forever. A new UI now in beta will bring a new look and feel to the site in April.

The look and feel of the Wikipedia site have remained essentially unchanged for nearly ten years. This is changing with work currently in beta and being tested by about half a million users of the popular on-line encyclopedia. The Wikipedia blog put it this way: “We are changing our default look to a new theme we call ‘Vector’ which makes essential functions easier to find. All users will … 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.”

That statement represents a lot of upgrades in the site, changes that the Wikipedia Foundation feels will greatly improve the overall user experience on the site, according to a CNET article. The goal of the upgrade is to address all of the usability issues that have come to light over the past nine years. Foundation spokesperson Jay Walsh says, “The look and feel has not changed dramatically from its early days. This is really about the first time we’ve addressed basic usability.”

Walsh also says that the vast majority of beta users have adopted the new interface for full-time use, a good indication that the changes will be accepted without problem by most users of the site. It has been a long time since things have been updated to reflect the new capabilities of the Web and the changes appear to be welcome ones. If all goes well, the new look and feel will premier for all users in late April, after about nine months of effort.

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