After more than two years of sporadic discussion, the www.wikipedia.org domain changed Friday from a redirect to the English Wikipedia into a portal showing all Wikipedia languages having over 100 articles.
When it was created, the English Wikipedia was located at www.wikipedia.org (originally www.wikipedia.com). Other languages were assigned domains based on ISO 639 language codes. The English Wikipedia was eventually moved in October 2002 to the appropriate domain for its language code, en.wikipedia.org, while the previous domains were set to redirect people to the correct location.
The move to create a portal was endorsed by Jimmy Wales and acclaimed by Wikipedians from other languages as long overdue. However, the change surprised a number of people and upset some users of the English Wikipedia who disliked the new arrangement.
Prompted by a question on the Wikitech mailing list, Member Representative Trustee Anthere took advantage of the opportunity to revisit the issue. Modelled on the practice applied to matters like the Swiss domain at www.wikipedia.ch, Anthere commented, "I think portal is the solution chosen for all our projects, so best to stick with it probably." She suggested that a design contest be held for the new portal.
Wales said he thought it was "a fantastic idea", but added, "It doesn't make sense for us to accept an ugly page." He encouraged people to use the wiki process to develop an attractive portal.
Acting on these suggestions, developer Tim Starling put up the new page and set up a www.wikipedia.org portal for people to edit on Meta. The content, originally based on the "Other languages" section of the English Wikipedia's Main Page, experienced a number of edits, although people were still struggling with the problem of using English words on a theoretically multilingual page.
Reactions on the English Wikipedia were not quite as glowing. Ta bu shi da yu criticized the lack of interesting and eye-catching features on a page frequented by many new visitors to Wikipedia, saying that at the least, "I hope that someone will either fix the design or make it more interesting."
The problem was aggravated by the fact that discussion of the change took place entirely on the Wikitech and Wikipedia mailing lists, as nobody took the time to specifically alert the English Wikipedia about the matter, even though its users were the ones most likely to be affected (Wikipedians in other languages having already learned long ago to bookmark their main page correctly). Raul654 complained that the change was "totally unannounced", pointing out that the English Wikipedia wasn't notified either before or after the change. He added that he thought the conversion to a portal would cause the English Wikipedia to miss out on potential new contributors.
In response to the complaints, Anthere pointed out that links in the form of www.wikipedia.org/Foo—which are therefore intended for specific Wikipedia articles—still redirect to the corresponding English article. She added that in her experience, even many non-English journalists give Wikipedia's address as www.wikipedia.org, and that this has sometimes prevented speakers of other languages from discovering that Wikipedia existed in those languages as well.
Still, in spite of the complaints, development of the new portal was moving forward in typical wiki fashion. Thus far, the changes have amounted to tweaking the presentation of the languages, but a successful redesign has yet to be presented. Ropers did try to give the portal some more visually appealing content by adding flags, but this was rejected because of the problem that country flags do not correspond very exactly with languages. So the challenge of coming up with an aesthetically pleasing portal remains.