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Redesigning Wikipedia, bit by bit

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By Pythoncoder and Bri

Redesigning the left sidebar

Wikipedia’s design has changed very little in the last ten years.[1][2][3] For example, the current Vector skin was introduced in 2010 (although some changes are currently being planned—more on that below), the Main Page has had basically the same layout since 2006, and that sidebar on the left-hand side of the page with all the links is almost as old. A recent WMF-funded report concluded in part that the sidebar was one of the most confusing parts of Wikipedia's design for casual readers:

Readers were unable to understand the purpose of the Menu on the left hand side of the site, noting in particular that they did not understand the items in the menu (e.g. Related changes, Special Pages). They felt that it was not relevant for them.

Editors have tried to improve the sidebar over the last decade. A 2013 request for comments (RfC) on the sidebar noted that:

  1. Even compared to other pieces of site-wide navigation, the sidebar is an extremely important navigation tool. With the vast majority of readers and editors using a skin (Vector or Monobook) with the sidebar placed on the left, it is in a natural position of importance considering English speakers tend to scan left to right.
  2. The sidebar is currently cluttered. On the Main Page, English Wikipedia readers see 22 linksin 2020, it's 21, not including language linksor "In other projects" links. Basic usability principles tell us that more choices increases the amount of time users have to spend understanding navigation (see Hick's law), and that simplicity and clarity are worthwhile goals. The most recent design of the homepage of Google.com, famous for its simplicity, has half the number of links, for comparison. While removing some semi-redundant links (like Contents or Featured contents) would be preferable, if we're going to have this many links it means prioritization is key, leading to the next point...
  3. The sidebar has poor prioritization. Users read top to bottom, and it is not unfair to say that the vertical order of the links should reflect some basic priority. However, currently, this prioritization is sloppily done. Even if we assume all the current links are important and should stay, the order needs work.
  4. The names for some links are overly verbose or unclear. Brevity is the soul of wit, and of good Web usability. We should not use two or three words where one will do.

The RfC proposed a new design for the sidebar which featured several collapsible sections. Ultimately, there was no consensus to make the change. After an incubation period at the Village Pump Idea Lab, the RfC was formally introduced (and advertised) this month. This year's RfC page has a different format: rather than one proposal to completely change the sidebar, many smaller proposals have been made to add or remove links. There are too many proposals to discuss each one, but here's the table of contents:

   1 Background
   2 Reorderings
       2.1 Reorder the links in the left sidebar to create a new "contribute" section
       2.2 Move Wikidata to "In other projects"
       2.3 Move "In other projects" under "Print/export"
       2.4 Separate "Page tools" and "User tools"
       2.5 Move "Print/export" above "Tools"
   3 Renamings
       3.1 Donate to Wikipedia → Donate
       3.2 Wikipedia store → Merchandise
       3.3 About Wikipedia → About
       3.4 Contact page → Contact
       3.5 Main page → Main Page
       3.6 Logs → Logged actions
       3.7 Languages → In other languages
       3.8 User rights management → Manage user rights
       3.9 Tools section → ???
       3.10 Print/export → Export
       3.11 Mute preferences → Mute this user
       3.12 Printable version → Print
       3.13 Download as PDF → Save as PDF
   4 Additions
       4.1 An introduction to contributing page
       4.2 An FAQ page
       4.3 A dashboard
       4.4 Logs
       4.5 Deleted contributions
       4.6 Search page
   5 Removals
       5.1 Featured content
       5.2 Upload file
       5.3 Permanent link
       5.4 Wikipedia store
       5.5 Print/export (both "Download as PDF" and "Printable version")
       5.6 Random Article
       5.7 Recent changes
   6 Autocollapsing
       6.1 "Tools" section
   7 Changing tooltips
       7.1 Comprehensive overview
       7.2 Featured content tooltip
       7.3 Current events tooltip
       7.4 Random article tooltip
       7.5 Donate to Wikipedia tooltip
       7.6 Wikipedia store tooltip
       7.7 About Wikipedia tooltip
       7.8 Community portal tooltip
       7.9 Recent changes tooltip
       7.10 Contact page tooltip
       7.11 Upload file tooltip
       7.12 Special pages tooltip
       7.13 Permanent link tooltip
       7.14 Page information tooltip
       7.15 Wikidata item tooltip
       7.16 Logs tooltip
       7.17 View user groups tooltip
       7.18 Mute preferences tooltip
       7.19 Download as PDF tooltip
   8 A Customizable Sidebar (or an Advanced Mode)
   9 A note on power users, usability, and systemic bias
   10 Technical underpinnings
       10.1 Sidebar settings page
       10.2 Tools
   11 Comparison to other projects and languages
The Wikimedia Foundation's proposed Vector update in action

While the English Wikipedia community works to make the sidebar better for readers and editors, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has been proceeding with its own plans to update the Vector skin. Current plans concern two proposed changes that would be incorporated into the standard Vector skin: moving the language selector to the top right of the page, and collapsing the sidebar by default. The WMF is currently accepting feedback on the changes here. P

April Fools' Day: have we gone too far with the pranks?

This year's April Fools' Day festivities were some of the more chaotic ones in recent memory. Articles for Deletion had a record 93 nominations (not counting some deleted coronavirus-related ones), which was about double the amount of serious nominations that day. Editing the page meant to document all the pranks was near-impossible due to edit conflicts caused by 1) yet another edit war over the title of the "other pranks"/"general tomfoolery", and 2) outright vandalism of the page (typical example here), though this one became less of a problem after the page was semi-protected. By the end of the day, it was a foregone conclusion that there would be an RfC to bring about some changes to how Wikipedia celebrates April 1. (Similar RfCs took place in 2013 and 2016.) Notable proposals on the RfC page include:

P

In brief

Follow-ups

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