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Vector-y at last

The big news today in the MediaWiki/Wikimedia world was that the default look for the English-language Wikipedia (i.e., the one shown to non-registered users, and to logged-in users who haven’t modified their defaults) changed – the logo was made smaller and a little darker, and, more importantly, the default skin was changed from “Monobook” to “Vector”.

I’ve personally known about Vector for about a year now, and six months I changed my own wiki, Discourse DB, to use the skin as a default, when I upgraded it to MediaWiki 1.16 (the current skin is basically just Vector done in olive-green). I personally think Vector has a fantastic look – very clean, with bigger, more obvious tabs, and an easier-to-find search area (in the top right, instead of lower down in the sidebar). That last decision, to move the search input, seems to have been a controversial one among Wikipedia users – if you read through the comments in the “new look” blog post, they’re full of pleas to restore the search input to its previous location, with one commenter helpfully stating that “The guy who decided to move the search box should be fired immediately and banished from the IT industry forever.” I’m not a usability expert, but it’s my understanding that the usability tests done by the team who created the Vector skin (many of whom I’ve met, actually) showed that the old location was hard to find for many new users – people have come to expect a search entry right at the top.

There are other complaints that seem more valid – like that parts of the sidebar show up as minimized and require you to click on an arrow in order to see them; which does seem pointless. Thankfully, this appears to be design decision unique to Wikipedia, and isn’t the default behavior of the Vector skin. There are also complaints about the font size, which I haven’t been able to duplicate – the font size seems the same on my screen as the old version.

Outside of Wikipedia, people seem to like Vector – already we see newly-launched wikis, like Startup Linkup and Innovation Cell, using Vector; and we’re talking now to a client who wants a custom skin, and who’s decided to go with Vector as the basis for it instead of Monobook. It should be noted that this is all happening even though the first version of MediaWiki in which Vector is included, 1.16, hasn’t been officially released yet – it’s been available for a long time, but it’s still in beta, and probably will be for another few months.

What will all this mean for those of us in the MediaWiki business? I think it’s great news – the overall look of MediaWiki has, in my opinion, been one of its weaknesses for a while; even though everyone knows the look from Wikipedia, it’s still been considered clunky, and difficult for people trying to edit for the first time to understand. The tremendous power and flexibility of MediaWiki have tended to outweigh some of the problems with the appearance. But now it looks – dare we say it? – nice.

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  1. It’s awesome :D

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