When it comes to design, there are few pillars of the Internet more resistant to change than Wikipedia. Although every single word on the 32+ million page digital encyclopedia can be edited by anyone, every change must also ultimately attain majority consensus in order to not be rubbed out. Coupled with the fact that Wikipedia has to work for everyone, even the lowest tech, and you have a design stalemate where it’s nearly impossible to push even the most obvious changes through.
That’s why George Khasnikov’s concept for a more visually striking Wikipedia redesign is a beautiful lost cause. It gets a lot right, reimagining Wikipedia for a multitouch, multimedia age, but ultimately, the things it gets right are exactly what would probably prevent Wikipedia from adopting it in the first place.
In Khasnikov’s concept, the front page of Wikipedia becomes a living mosaic of ever-changing content. Whereas the current homepage is a tri-columned table of text links, Khasnikov’s idea is to make Wikipedia almost Flipboard-like when it comes to its visual design cues. Wikipedia has always been the kind of place you could lose hours link-surfing, but in the new design, Wikipedia is almost a web portal of did-you-knows, encouraging users to dive in right from the front page. It’s a considerably less intimidating point of entry.
Borrowing a few tricks from apps like Instapaper and Medium, the new look also boasts new type and layout styles, with short lines and plenty of white space to min-max readability. The new Wikipedia would estimate the time an article will take you to read, and gives you the number of words at the footer of a page. But Khasnikov’s Wikipedia also streamlines the editing process, adopting a Markdown-style full screen editor for making changes to new and existing entries, as well as a more user-friendly interface for historic edits that steals at least a little bit of inspiration from Apple’s Time Machine.
But like designs we’ve seen before, it ultimately fails Wikipedia’s biggest design tests. Although this design looks great on modern devices, it’s the devices of yesteryear–the vintage Dells running Windows 95 over a 56K modem, the antique Gateways mere megahertz away from lowing their last mechanical moo–that Wikipedia cares about most. And while Khasnikov does much to try to appeal to Wikipedia editors here by reinventing the encyclopedia’s editing toolset, the very grognards who would benefit most from it are most likely to reject it. Those who want a prettier, more modern Wikipedia should not hold their breath.