Wikipedia has been around for over 10 years and it’s not uncommon, all these years later, for someone to be surprised to learn that this is an encyclopedia that anyone can edit.
The editors of Wikipedia are the real champions that make this project a great success and they don’t always get the credit they deserve. There is no team of editors being paid and certainly no Wizard of Oz-like character pulling the strings. These editors work tirelessly to give you the information you need, spending time fighting spam and keeping Wikipedia the healthy and useful resource you have grown to love. All our editors do this for free out of the goodness of their heart.
The design and mobile web engineering teams have been thinking a lot about this since September. Since then, we have been exploring how we can surface the inner workings of Wikipedia in such a way that helps you understand what’s going on in the background and hopefully compels you to get more involved.
All pages on mobile will now show a “last modified” bar at the top of the page. Its purpose is to give the reader a sense of the health of the article, who last edited it and when it was last edited. It’s green if an article is considered ‘fresh’ and has recently been edited and gray when it has been without an edit for some time, which might indicate that it has been neglected or in need of a refresh. Knowing a bit about the editor also helps paint a picture of where your information is coming from.
If you are reading an article that hasn’t been updated in a year, we hope that this might galvanise you to inject some new life into the article or at least realize you are consuming some information that may be out of date and possibly less reliable.
We also hope this change will get our readers interested in the editors “behind the curtain” who have collaborated to work on your favorite articles. Via the bar, you can follow a yellow brick road of revisions to a history page showing you how the page was formed over time all the way back to the day it was created. This functionality has been on the desktop site for some time, primarily for the purpose of editors to keep track of edits and to attribute the authors responsible. However, we believe there is value in this “yellow brick road” for the average reader as well. With it, you’ll be able to see the changes that shaped an article, how it reacted to current events and learn about the editors that made it the wonderful article it is now. You’ll also be able to use it to discover and correct errors, for example, to find who made the dubious and incorrect claim that Gaius Flavius Antoninus assassinated Julius Caesar.
By clicking on the username, you’ll see what other articles the user has contributed to, what images they have uploaded and get to know the people they collaborate with to make your favorite project the success it is.
You can also click on the timestamp to see what the last editor did to a page; it might have been to add new information, update existing information, revert some vandalism, or something as simple as a spelling correction. We hope that by seeing how other editors have contributed in such a prominent way, readers will get a glimpse of the types of contributions they might be able to make themselves. This may encourage more readers to make the leap to becoming an editor which, when editing via wikitext, sometimes seems might seem as scary as the thick woods were to the cowardly lion. The page also serves as a launch pad to give you the opportunity, if logged in, to thank those editors whose contributions you find most valuable. It’s a small way to contribute to our project, but every contribution helps!
All these features have been on desktop in some form for many years but they’ve been buried away in the interface to those who haven’t been aware of them. These changes to the mobile interface signal us rethinking the status quo and trying to better highlight the real heroes of Wikipedia.
So get exploring behind the curtain, Dorothy!
Jon Robson, on behalf of the Mobile Web team