In April, the Wikimedia Foundation is rolling out the first of several significant changes to the user experience of Wikipedia as part of our usability and user experience program.

  • We are changing our default look to a new theme we call “Vector” which makes essential functions easier to find.
  • 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.

We will begin deployment of these changes in the week of April 5 on Wikimedia Commons, the media repository used by Wikipedia. Provided that we don’t encounter major hiccups with this first roll-out, we are planning deployment of the changes to Wikipedia in late April, beginning with the English Wikipedia, followed by other languages. Logged-in users will have the option to return to the classic functionality using a one-click process.

These improvements have been in use by more than 500,000 “beta” users over the last six months, and have been localized, including right-to-left language support. (More localization work is welcome — please join our localization rally if you can.  Eighty-percent of users who have tried the new “beta” apperance have stayed within the beta program.  These changes are also the result of qualitative user research undertaken by the Wikimedia Foundation.

On the English Wikipedia specifically, we’re also enabling the creation of PDFs files and printed books from Wikipedia articles to all users (a service previously restricted to logged-in users only). And, we’ll start roll-out of a refined version of the well-known Wikipedia globe logo, correcting small mistakes and representing new languages.

These changes are only the beginning. We’re also testing a set of additional editing and navigation improvements that we are planning to implement later this year:

  • We’re reducing the amount of wiki code users see in the edit system and making it possible to change data in tables and information boxes through simple forms.
  • We’re cleaning up the edit page itself, to use more understandable language and get rid of confusing clutter.
  • We’re providing a new outline tool to navigate a long article while you’re editing it.
  • We’re simplifying the search by getting rid of the confusing combination of the “go” and “search” buttons, moving instead towards one search button.

These changes will be available as opt-in beta features to registered users to allow wider testing, and will be validated by further user research before deployment. Finally, we’re also working on an improved interface for uploading images and video, and searching our existing multimedia repository. See the multimedia project hub for more information.

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 work over the past year has been funded by the Stanton Foundation, and our ongoing work on multimedia improvements is funded in part by the Ford Foundation and conducted in partnership with Kaltura. We’re very grateful to these partners and funders for supporting our mission.

Software developers are invited to review this under-the-hood explanation in our technical blog that describes the impact of these changes on bots, scripts, and gadgets interfacing with Wikimedia projects. We’ve also started a Q&A on the Usability wiki that we’ll develop through the roll-out.  You can use the Q&A ‘talk’ page to propose other questions. Check back in with the Wikimedia blog for regular updates throughout the process.

Thanks for your interest,

Naoko Komura, Project Manager, User Experience