I love Wikipedia, but too often the articles are just not that easy to read. It’s not that my English isn’t good enough. My English good. There is Simple English Wikipedia, but it doesn’t cover as many topics and it’s not as thorough.
No, what bothers me about reading Wikipedia isn’t the language, it’s the editorial tone. Wikipedia is normalised.
Here’s what Wikipedia feels like to me:
The watt is the rate a source of energy uses or produces one joule during one second, …
Er… OK… I think I remember what a joule is [click]:
A joule is equal to the energy expended (or work done) in applying a force of one newton through a distance of one metre.
… the unit of force … needed to accelerate 1 kilogram of mass at the rate of 1 metre per second squared.
OK. That makes sense, I think. So a joule is how much energy it takes to apply a force to accelerate 1kg, wait… force isn’t the same thing as energy? [click]
Basically, reading Wikipedia, especially when it comes to science, is a tree traversal experience.
It often takes more than a few clicks to reach understanding. You dive down, deeper and deeper with each click, then navigate back up and continue reading. It’s very easy to get lost and to lose your context. Don’t get me wrong, I realise it’s an encyclopedia and not a textbook, and every article can’t possibly explain every sub-article it links to. Yet this level of normalization yields a terse, unfriendly tone, which can be frustrating if you’re new to the subject and don’t understand many of the terms used.
What I want is a way to flatten articles to accomodate my own particular knowledge gaps. I want related terms to be explained to me inline, and just deep enough for me to grasp them and not get distracted from the main article.
An animated example of how this would work
- When you click on a term, it expands inline to show you the most minimal explanation first.
- You can click on the ellipsis (…) to see a bit more of the explanation, if that first sentence wasn’t enough for you.
- You can dive deeper into multiple levels, all without losing your context.
What I also like about this is that you can even end up with a customised article, flattened according to your needs. Maybe even print it or save it as a one-pager that covers all the related terms. Could be fantastic for students.
Would you enjoy reading Wikipedia this way? I’m curious to know what other people think.
Assaf Lavie is a software developer and entrepreneur. He is the founder of Gigantt and consultant to startups on product development and UX. This post originally appeared on his blog, and has been republished with permission.