Wikipedia’s Getting an Overdue Makeover

Wikipedia’s Getting an Overdue Makeover
Graphic: Wikimedia Foundation

Wikipedia, a platform beloved by nerds the world over for its seemingly endless buffet of scholarly rabbit holes, is finally getting a facelift. It’ll be the first time the site’s altered anything about its image in a decade.

According to a blog post put out earlier today by the Wikimedia Foundation, the goal of these gradual changes are meant to make the site not only more welcoming to a new generation of Wikipedia-lurkers, but also to make it more intuitive to use. Wikipedia’s current layout was put into practice back in 2010 and has remained stagnant since then, while web design as a whole, well, didn’t. Put another way by Wikipedia itself: “the expectations of readers and editors, have evolved.”

The changes the platform has in store, at least right now, seem to be mostly small tweaks meant to make the experience of Wiki browsing a little bit easier. One suggestion, for example, is to give readers the option to collapse the site’s objectively cluttered sidebar, which will make it easier for readers to “focus on the content itself.” Others suggests a search bar that follows users as they scroll down the page, or a way to decrease how much horizontal space the article text occupies. Nothing flashy, just the sorts of design niceties most people have come to expect these days.

“We think it’s time to take some of these ideas and bring them to the default experience of all users, on all wikis, in an organised, consistent way,” the post explains.

Gif: Wikimedia Commons Gif: Wikimedia Commons

These changes aren’t hitting all users all at once. Some Wikis, like the Hebrew and Farsi-language branches of the platform, have already had some of these changes implemented by default. The Foundation added that on these sites — and any other Wikis that start getting these new tweaks — only users that are logged into the site will have the option to revert their display back to the Wikipedia displays of yore. As opposed to the majority of web designs which are imposed from the top all at once, and not always popular, Wikipedia was keen to stress that it will take a collaborative and incrementalist approach:

No work will be done in terms of styling templates, the structure of page contents, map support, or cross-wiki templates […] all navigational items and other functionality currently available by default will remain […] Each feature is discussed, developed, and deployed separately

While there’s no set timeline on the horizon for these changes, the Foundation said that the goal is to slowly transition the desktop displays of all Wikipedia sites to this new normal by the end of 2021.

Even if the site will look largely the same, it’s strange to think of Wikipedia as being visually mutable. All we have left is Craigslist, and maybe the Magic Cafe Forums.