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Wikipedia Graphics News

Why Is Wikipedia So Ugly? 370

Posted by timothy
from the looks-nice-to-me dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Megan Garber writes in the Atlantic that aesthetically, Wikipedia is remarkably unattractive. 'The gridded layout! The disregard for mind-calming images! The vaguely Geocities-esque environment! Whether it's ironic or fitting, it is undeniable: The Sum of All Human Knowledge, when actually summed up, is pretty ugly.' But Wikipedians consider the site's homeliness as a feature rather than a bug. 'Wikipedia has always been kind of a homely, awkward, handcrafted-looking site,' says Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, adding that the homeliness 'is part of its awkward charm.' Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr have built followings in part because of their exceedingly simple interfaces. Everything about their design says, 'Come on, guys. Participate. It's easy,' while Wikipedia, so far, has been pretty much the opposite of that. 'The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit' might more properly be nicknamed 'the free encyclopedia that any geek can edit.' This is particularly problematic because one of the Wikimedia Foundation's broad strategic goals is to expand its base of editors. While the editing interface is friendly to the site's super-users who tend to be so committed to Wikipedia's mission that they're willing to do a lot to contribute to it, if Wikipedia wants to make itself more attractive to users, a superficial makeover may be just the thing Wikipedia needs to begin growing in a more meaningful way."
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Why Is Wikipedia So Ugly?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:26AM (#40647529)

    Most websites that look awesome have almost no content which is hidden on several pages with lots of ads in between. No thx like it simple.

  • by simplexion (1142447) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:28AM (#40647549)
    is all this is.
  • by transporter_ii (986545) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:32AM (#40647571) Homepage

    If your site has good content, the people will come regardless. Much better than a really pretty site with crap content, in my opinion. Another example here is, craigslist. I can't stand to even load up craigslist. It looks so freaking awful, yet they have made a fortune off that 1995-html1.0-looking crap.

  • Functional (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Irishman (9604) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:33AM (#40647577)

    This is a complaint I have heard a lot in my programming career. In my own experience, most coders I have worked with are focused on functionality and simplicity; getting as much information out there in as straightforward a manner as possible. Often, this means "ugly" to non-CS people. Personally, I find Wikipedia easy to read and easy to navigate. Sure, it may not have graphics popping out everywhere or things dancing across the screen but when I hit WP, all I want is information.

    Now, could it be better? Possibly. It is easy enough to create a new skin for it and give it some zip but I doubt the team would ever make it a default. WP is meant to be accessed on any device, through any type of connection (although it does have some issues in that department).

    If I want lots of useless clutter, I will go to any number of large news organizations' websites.

  • Ugly = subjective (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:33AM (#40647579)

    Personally, I think it looks clean.

  • by gweihir (88907) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:36AM (#40647599)

    Wikipedia is all function. It is efficient, loads fast, list information well. Improving aesthetics to the detriment of functionality is something seen far too often in the web and it is something done only by idiots. Of which there are many, unfortunately.

    Bottom line: Wikipedia is only for those seeking knowledge. All others, please go away, you are not welcome and your criticism is misdirected.

  • Re:Functional (Score:5, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon (590494) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:37AM (#40647605) Journal

    I guess anyone who thinks Wikipedia is ugly will also consider books ugly. Think of it: The typical book has a big, mostly uniform block of text surrounded by unprinted space except for a page number. Most books don't even have images (except on the cover).

  • Bizarro world (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dingen (958134) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:38AM (#40647619)

    if Wikipedia wants to make itself more attractive to users, a superficial makeover may be just the thing Wikipedia needs to begin growing in a more meaningful way.

    What? Because it looks pretty, people will start reading an encyclopedia? Are you nuts?

    First of all, last time I checked Wikipedia was in the top 10 of most visited websites on this planet. So they seem to be attracting users just fine. And obviously, the one and only thing that matters is the quality of their content. As long as Wikipedia continues to provide great information on basically any conceivable subject, a simple uncluttered layout to access that information is all they need.

    Now I get the impression (also by the screenshot) that the article is mainly talking about Wikipedia's homepage. There might be some room for improvement there, but seriously, who goes to Wikipedia to look at the homepage? It's all about the articles. And those pages simply look fine.

  • by Akardam (186995) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:41AM (#40647637)

    To paraphrase a favorite character of mine, "... I'm so sick of (article writers like this) I could vomit...".

    Wikipedia has at its core one basic job to do: convey information. Setting aside for the moment the questions of validity of content, sources, spats between editors, astroturfing, etc, the prime question is, how quickly and easily was one able to find what one was looking for and absorb it. This is a task at which I personally feel Wikipedia does a fine job. It is a simple, straightforward visual style that doesn't bolt on any extraneous flash (no pun intended) or style just for flash or style's sake.

    By the way, when the article author compares Wikipedia and Geocities visual style and finds similarities, I'm prompted to wonder where the author actually was when Geocities was in its heydey.

    As for the complaint about the complexities of editing on Wikipedia: Heaven forbid that when editing one of the great repositories of human knowledge, that the editors should take the time required to learn the skills necessary to do so... seriously, if Wikipedia ever "redesigns" itself to appeal anywhere near the lowest common denominator of the Facebook/Twitter/Myspace generation, I quit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:44AM (#40647661)

    So Wikimedia needs to make a choice:

    -If they simplify the site to make it more accessible, they will probably build a larger, more diverse population of contributors, and will also probably move Wikipedia some distance down the spectrum from "academically valuable tertiary resource" towards "Youtube comments section".

    -Or they can keep it the way it is, with a relatively small community of dedicated contributors, which has allowed it to become one of the most valuable and extraordinary creations of the internet age.

    Personally I value excellence over political correctness, so I would take the second route.

  • Less is more (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SpaghettiPattern (609814) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:45AM (#40647665)
    What's ugly about a site that at one blink of the eye shows you exactly what you need? A site that is meant to be informative. A site that loads like the wind blows!

    May the rapist web designers stay away from one of the jewels of the internet. Less bloat is more usability.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:45AM (#40647669)

    And unlike Facebook, Wikipedia's UI seems relatively stable and bug-free, and to me is easier to use. Wikipedia does a great job at presenting information without getting in the way. It's not flashy and doesn't need to be flashy, and can stand alone on the strength of its sheer usefulness without having to have a lot of useless eye candy. The markup they use isn't particularly difficult to work with either.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:47AM (#40647675)

    Decoration gets in the way of functionality. Wikipedia is probably over-decorated as it is, and adding what Garber wants would make it both slower and less accessible.

    In a nutshell, she's clueless on this topic.

  • by eulernet (1132389) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:49AM (#40647687)

    Adding images will also increase the bandwidth costs.

    An encyclopedia is not a dating site !

  • by dreamchaser (49529) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:53AM (#40647725) Homepage Journal

    Most websites that look awesome have almost no content which is hidden on several pages with lots of ads in between. No thx like it simple.

    Exactly. I wouldn't even call it ugly; I'd call it utilitarian. That is a good thing for a tool used to search for knowledge. It also makes it much more readily available to minimalistic and text only browsers without much extra work on the part of the maintainers.

  • by SternisheFan (2529412) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @07:56AM (#40647737)

    I agree. I've never had a negative thought about Wikipedia's look. I like the way it looks. It's clean, useable, and easy on the eyes. It doesn't need anything more. I'd even say it shouldn't add anything more. Clutter is the opposite of information. And the charge that it's difficult to edit is ridiculous.

    Sometimes, less is more.

  • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @08:04AM (#40647781)
    Indeed, Facebook's UI is too complex and dense for its own good. Profiles that use the timeline are nearly impossible to navigate easily. On the other hand, I do like Wikipedia's simple UI. Simple does not mean useless.
  • by KreAture (105311) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @08:12AM (#40647821)
    Don't forget functional.
    Today everything has to look like it has been released by apple or it's ugly.

    I cringe when I see all the resources and battery consumption that go into features like false reflections in metallic buttons on a friggin screen.

    I want a website that is designed for quick lookups to be just that, quick! And, it is!
  • by adamchou (993073) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @08:15AM (#40647833)
    I'd beg to differ with that statement. How much simpler can you possibly get than what Wikipedia has? There are no drop down menus in obscure places you have to find. There aren't a bunch of different settings to look for. Functionality from one page to another is the always the same, unlike all the other aforementioned sites. Wikipedia is the epitome of simplicity. The writer is just delirious.
  • by tepples (727027) <tepples&gmail,com> on Saturday July 14, 2012 @08:18AM (#40647853) Homepage Journal

    When it comes to an encyclopedia, I want it to be written by geeks.

    I want it to be written by geeks in the subject of the article, not necessarily computer geeks if the subject is not information science or information technology. For example, there used to be (still is?) a perception that articles' "in popular culture" were overpopulated with entries from works loved by the demographic of computer geeks who are willing to take time to learn the markup. When I read a chemistry article, I want it to be written by chemistry geeks. When I read a linguistic theory article, I want it to be written by language geeks. When I read an article on psychology or religion or other social sciences, I want it to be written by experts in the field, not people with a vested interest in discrediting the field.

  • by Stirling Newberry (848268) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @08:19AM (#40647855) Homepage Journal
    The big difference between Facebook and Wikipedia, is that Facebook is filled with people trying to be nice to you to spread posts about nothing, and Wikipedia is filled with people trying to be nasty to you to write articles about everything.
  • by Dogtanian (588974) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @08:26AM (#40647899) Homepage
    As a Wikipedia contributor and editor, I didn't find the article offensive so much as I thought "I really don't see where she gets that from".

    Had I never used Wikipedia, I'd probably expect it- going by her description- to look like something basic and ugly from 1997. I mean, "Geocities"? It's nothing like the stereotypical Geocities page (garish and tasteless decorations and backdrops).

    I must admit that I hardly ever think of Wikipedia's appearance- it doesn't look plain or boring to me, which would suggest it was underdesigned in the way she implies- it simply isn't a factor. That suggests that they got it right- it's nice and clean, and doesn't distract from the content, while not being gratuitously over-plain.

    No, it's not covered in Web-2.0 shading, and there isn't an excess of distracting widgets. In all honesty, I get the impression that the author is really criticising the lack of *cutesiness*, over-designed attempts to appear friendly with "helpful" candy.

    I'll definitely concede one point; editing is still too technical. I'm a geek, so I'm happy to directly edit markup, add templates with parameters, etc. However, I have thought quite often while doing this that it's almost certainly not friendly to average non-techie users. The visual editor is a step in the right direction, but it still probably needs more. I'm not talking about dumbing down things, simply saying that if something can reasonably be presented in a non-technical way without too much compromise, then the choice should be there.

    Of course, I'd probably rather just edit the markup directly, and I'd want *that* choice to remain too, if it was so wanted. :-)
  • by santax (1541065) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @08:26AM (#40647909)
    Slashdot looked really good with the my little pony theme though! So it can be done!
  • by bankman (136859) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @08:56AM (#40648107) Homepage

    Sometimes, less is more.

    It sometimes appears that designers don't get this at all. Some of the least usable sites I have seen in the past couple of years were the desginers' own.

  • by macshit (157376) <<miles> <at> <gnu.org>> on Saturday July 14, 2012 @08:58AM (#40648117) Homepage

    By the way, when the article author compares Wikipedia and Geocities visual style and finds similarities, I'm prompted to wonder where the author actually was when Geocities was in its heydey.

    Indeed ... if anything, Wikipedia is the anti-Geocities: whereas Geocities was famous for its inconsistency, garish colors, and in many cases, almost complete unreadability, Wikipedia is very consistent and readable (well the form of the articles anyway, if not always the words). This is no easy feat, either, given the many editors and authors, but WIkipedia seems to have evolved reasonably good processes and conventions for moving articles towards consistency. [Geocities, of course, had pretty much zero overall structure or convention.]

  • by Phrogman (80473) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @09:03AM (#40648159) Homepage

    And often as not more is less. I can't count the number of beautifully designed artistically creative website designs I have seen - which violate all the rules for design and layout and conveying information ever devised, and have zero content worth actually reading - but *my* its pretty. In many ways a lot of modern websites are a triumph of form over function and not much else.
    Wikipedia has a simple layout that works quite well, it is consistent and I think quite easy to read generally. If it takes learning a slightly specialized markup language to encode the data - well then thats a small barrier to entry that might encourage only those who can be bothered to learn how to edit the pages to actually edit the pages.
    If editors were let loose with a wysiwyg editor then Wikipedia entries would be a chaos of inconsistent layout and display and effectively unreadable, in very short order.

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @09:11AM (#40648199) Homepage Journal

    I wasn't even particularly aware of the design. Now to me, that means they're probably doing something right.

    But then I'm the kind of person who doesn't wear a beret or have tarpaulin grommets in my earlobes, so what do I know?

  • by ansak (80421) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @10:05AM (#40648585) Homepage Journal

    This kind of comment comes from the same kind of morons who brought us the re-tooling, for instance, of GMail. It was great (to use) the way it was. Now I hear nothing (NOTHING!) but complaints about it (or blank stares which when probed yield statements of powerlessness). If the underlying code was ugly, the first update cycle should have been to upgrade the code in a way that none of the users would notice.

    Note to Jimmy Wales: resist the UX-groupthink mob who would tell you to make Wikipedia more tablet friendly. If it's ugly, it's ugly the way the old White Pages were ugly. Ugly and informative. The way a real newspaper used to be ugly (especially the front sections up to where the editorials, letters and Op-Ed pieces lay): ugly, information rich and informative.

    Note to the groupthink mob: if you must make something tablet-friendly, make sure it's still screen friendly during the design before you foist it on those of us who haven't caved-in to constant computing through tablet ownership.

    <quickly hitting submit before going off and doing something real>...ank

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @10:44AM (#40648833) Journal
    Not only that, on the Atlantic article, I counted no less than 6 different typefaces, not counting colors, bold, all-caps, etc. If this lady wants to change things, she should start with her own magazine.
  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @11:07AM (#40648983) Homepage Journal

    The problem with WYSIWYG editors is that the browsers themselves add their own mess of HTML and CSS to the things you edit.

  • by arth1 (260657) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @11:23AM (#40649151) Homepage Journal

    The problem with WYSIWYG editors is that the browsers themselves add their own mess of HTML and CSS to the things you edit.

    The problem with WYSWYG is that it's WYSIWYBNAEG.
    Markup != presentation, which web "designers" still haven't gotten into their heads in more than fifteen years of fail after fail.

    And in the case of Wikipedia, it does so exceedingly well because of its simplicity, not despite it. The less cluttered it is, the more the actual information pops to the front, and the more room there is for actual information.

    Those who wants a rounded corner ajax-slowed video blog without all the boring details are free to make them. Don't hijack wikipedia, though.
    You tried to hijack /., but we all noticed how well received that was.

  • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Saturday July 14, 2012 @11:39AM (#40649263) Homepage

    Quite true, however just because a full WYSWYG editor would be a bad idea, doesn't mean you shouldn't have something beyond the primitive plain text. Things like ref's make editing the plain text pretty painful right now, as you simply can't read the text properly when every line is interrupted by three lines of ref hyperlinks and link descriptions. The proper answer should be a proper structured view of the text that makes it clear where tags start and stop, but also keeps the text human readable without looking like random markup soup.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @12:06PM (#40649501)
    "Why Is Wikipedia So Ugly?" presupposes that Wikipedia is ugly, and forces that notion on listener/reader. You can get away with posing a question in an article title, but not loading a question.
  • Indeed (Score:0, Insightful)

    by frankgerlach11 (2657679) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @12:57PM (#40649901)
    Those who are still in the MS-Office stage of document creation have no business in editing wikipedia. These people mostly have a very shallow view of almost anything, except politics in the corporation. In the "hard" sciences they use LaTeX to do their publications, and that is for a reason. Most people don't have useful knowledge to be contributed to wikipedia over more than two paragraphs, anyway. How hard is it learning how to make a paragraph heading and how to make line breaks ? Real experts in some field (say honey bees) spend thousands of hours in the field and spending a few hours to learn wiki syntax is no big investment relative to that.
  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @06:16PM (#40651879)

    I don't get this "Wikipedia is Ugly" idea either; I think it looks really good personally. There isn't a bunch of extra flashy crap, just the article text, some tables listing key points concisely, some relevant photos, and finally references at the bottom. Then there's a simple menu on the left, and some tabs to look at the "Talk" page, edit the content, or view the edit history, and a search box plus a link to log in or create an account. What little color there is is muted and very neutral. What's the problem?

    I think this is just a bunch of Web 2.0 morons complaining because it hasn't been completely redesigned and uglified for no reason at all, just like Gmail's crappy new interface; change for change's sake.

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