We all turn to the Wikipedia from time to time, whenever we need a bit of authoritative info about a subject. You may not have noticed it, but the “look and feel” of Wikipedia essentially hasn’t changed in a decade. As an encyclopedia the Wikipedia focuses on its content, and the accessibility of that content in terms of search and navigation. “Content” is also the focus you’ll find in most Wiki software, and the basis of the Wikipedia is of course Wiki software called MediaWiki.
Ten years is a long time in the history of the web, and things have changed since the start of Wikipedia. Ten years ago, personal computers were the only way to access the web; today, an ever increasing number of users surfs the web on smartphones, tablets, PC’s and smart TV’s. Ten years ago, producing information for the Wikipedia was essential to get it up and running as an broad encyclopedia; these days, I’m guessing there are relatively much more consumers than writers of Wikipedia content. Ten years ago, there was only a web interface to interact with the Wikipedia; today there are apps on all kinds of platforms to access all or parts of its content in a specific form on all those different types of devices.
Thus it should not come as a surprise that someone decided to apply the user interface lessons of the last decade to the Wikipedia: meet WikiWand.
There are two ways to use WikiWand: you can either access the Wikipedia through the WikiWand website (just use the search in the top right corner), or you can install the WikiWand browser plugin (for Chrome, Firefox or Safari) and set it up to be your default way of using the Wikipedia. I’m currently trying out the website, and I must admit: it looks good, on my Mac as well as on a smartphone. The smartphone version is perhaps a bit too visual, putting all the pictures before the text of the lemma. But the navigation menu on the left allows you to jump to wherever you want, so many pictures are only a problem if you access the web over a slow (and possibly expensive) network connection.
That’s all good, but a question remains. WikiWand is a commercial enterprise. So how will they be making money, without “ripping off” the Wikimedia Foundation? That remains to be seen: WikiWand says it wants to add “contextually-relevant ads for textbooks, articles and courses”, with 30 percent of its profits being donated to the Wikimedia Foundation – but only the future will tell whether they can stick to that “education only” ad policy…