Wikipedia, one of the the top 10 most visited websites in the worldand a tool billions used each month gets its first desktop makeover in over a decade. The Wikimedia Foundation, which manages the Wikipedia project, announced today the launch of an updated interface to make the site more accessible and easier to use with additions such as an improved search function, a more prominently placed language switching tool, an updated header that provides access to frequently used links, an updated table of contents section for Wikipedia articles and other design changes for a better reading experience.
The interface has already been launched in hundreds of language versions of Wikipedia in recent weeks, but is now being rolled out to the English Wikipedia, the company said.
The changes being made are not very drastic – they are not even immediately noticed by some users. However, the organization says the update was necessary to meet the needs of the next generation of internet users, including those who get online more and may be less familiar with the internet.
To develop the new interface, the foundation partnered with more than 30 different volunteer groups from around the world, with users in India, Indonesia, Ghana and Argentina, among others, all helping to test the update and provide insight into the product development . The purpose of the update was to make Wikipedia more of a modern web platformit said, and to get rid of clutter while also making it easier for users to contribute. It was also intended to make the desktop web version more consistent with Wikipedia’s mobile counterpart.
One of the changes is a newly improved search box that now uses both images and descriptions in the autocomplete suggestions that appear as you type to help users find the article you need. This change, like many being introduced, is relatively minor, but provides a visual cue that could speed up searches and make them more useful. The Wikimedia Foundation said this update led to a 30% increase in user searches when it was tested — a reminder that even minor changes can have bigger impacts on how a product is used in the real world.
Another change involves an updated sticky header, where you’ll find commonly used links like Search, the page name, and sections that move with you as you scroll down pinned to the top of the page. That means you no longer have to scroll back up to find what you’re looking for, so users can focus on reading or editing the content.
Again, this seems like a minor tweak, but one that reduced scrolling speed by more than 15% during testing – something that could be useful to those who spend a lot of time on Wikipedia navigating between pages and sections, though it’s largely an annoyance with the site, more than any real problem. The tests also showed that edits that people started using the edit button in the paste header were rolled back less often than edits initiated from other edit buttons on the page.
Language switching tools were previously available, but are now elevated to a new, more prominent position in the top right, allowing readers and editors to switch between over 300 supported languages. This can be useful in emerging markets where multilingual users sometimes want to access pages from other languages.
The new table of contents on the left side of articles, which helps people navigate longer content, now remains visible as you scroll down and helps you see which section you’re currently reading. This makes it easier to jump back and forth between different parts of the article as you explore a topic further. Again, useful, but not world-changing.
Other changes to the site include the addition of a collapsible sidebar for a more distraction-free reading experience and a change to the maximum line width. The foundation explained that limiting the width of long text provides a more comfortable reading experience and improves content retention. However, a switch is available for logged in and logged out users on each page if the monitor is 1600 pixels or wider, allowing users to increase the width of the page. Logged in users can also set a width on their preferences page.
The default font size has also been increased for better reading comfort.
Given the size of Wikipedia’s readership, it’s clear that the organization was careful not to make disruptive changes. Today, Wikipedia offers more than 58 million articles in more than 300 languages, which are viewed nearly 16 billion times a month. The announcement also noted that no existing functionality was being removed as part of these changes – instead, the focus of the update was on usability improvements and modernizing the site.
The makeover, also known as “Vector 2022” – a reference to the name of the standard Wikipedia skin (Vector – and yes, there are others!) – had been in the works for three years and was slowly rolling out about the Wikipedia platform for today. As of December 2022, Vector 2022 was the default skin for about 300 Wikipedias worldwide, becoming the default on Arabic and Greek Wikipedias.
Today, the update is live on 94% of the 318 active language versions of Wikipedia for all desktop users and rolling out to English Wikipedia on the desktop.