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Page design changes

Over the last few months, there have been some changes in page design on the subject wikis, with more changes scheduled for the coming months. Most of these changes have, as of now, been limited to Groupprops, but the ones that seem to be working well are being incorporated in other wikis as well.

One of the goals of the subject wikis is to provide a lot of information in a readily accessible and suggestive manner without “overloading” or “confusing” the person reading the information. This goal is challenging, particularly as more and more potentially useful information gets identified. Compare, for instance, the Wolfram Mathworld page on normal subgroup, the English Wikipedia page on normal subgroup, and the Groupprops page on normal subgroup. The Groupprops page has a much greater “raw quantity” of information, both in terms of content in the page and links from the page.

Some techniques to incorporate more content while trying to minimize overload and maximizing user control have been discussed below.

Increased use of tables

When there are multiple items with similar information (attributes) for each item, it makes sense to organize them in a table, with the columns corresponding to the attributes. This simple idea has taken some time to implement in various contexts. In the page on normal subgroup on Groupprops, the “Relation with other properties” section and the “Metaproperties” section provide examples of the use of tables. In the “Relation with other properties” section, other properties related to normality, and more information on the relation, are organized in a tabular format. This makes it easier both for viewers to engage with the content and to ignore it, because rectangles are easier to ignore than uglier shapes.

Figuring out what attributes to choose for the table is a tricky task, in that it involves looking at the “typical attributes” discussed for most objects, then providing reasonable names for these attributes. This, in turn, requires some past work in expressing the relationships. That is one reason why the transition to tables is taking some effort. For instance, in Related facts section of the normality is not transitive page, different kinds of factual relationships require different kinds of attribute expressions. On the other hand, the attribute choice for the arithmetic functions section of dihedral group:D8 is relatively straightforward.

Show/hide feature

This was long coming — I just needed to figure out and install the correct extension (ToggleDisplay is what I installed, though there are many other similar extensions), and have now done so on Groupprops. This enables less to be shown by default, and viewers can choose to show more. Interestingly, not only does this make the default page shorter, it might actually increase the chance that the viewer will interact with the content not shown — because the “show more” might act as a spur to curiosity for the particular not-shown content that the viewer is interested in, without the distraction of other not-shown content the viewer is not interested in. The normal subgroup page again is an example.

More sophisticated use of semantic relationships

There has been a steady move in Groupprops towards semantic relationships. Categories (in the MediaWiki sense of the term) are now reserved for very basic kinds of lists and semantic relationships are being increasingly used for lists that involve relationships to other terms. For instance, the collection of properties satisfying a particular (meta)-property is now not stored in a separate category, but is stored using the semantic relation satisfies metaproperty::metaproperty name.

This allows for much richer information storage without category profusion. In order to further this, it is necessary to spot the various kinds of relationships. Standard relationships used are “defining ingredient” (the referring object uses the referred-to object in its definition), “uses” (the referring object uses the referred-to object in its proof or statement), “fact about” (the referring object is a fact about the referred-to object). Others include “satisfies property”, “dissatisfies property”, “satisfies metaproperty”, “dissatisfies metaproperty”, “stronger than”, “weaker than”, “uses property satisfaction of”, and “proves property satisfaction of”. Once these have been identified, the next step is making sure that they are used wherever appropriate. Given the size of the wiki (over 3700 pages) this would not be an easy task. Luckily, it turns out to be relatively easy because of the extensive use of article-tagging templates. Tinkering with the article-tagging templates gets the right semantic relationships on large numbers of pages.

Article rating

This was another long-awaited extension (ReaderFeedback): it allows viewers to rate articles by selecting from a drop-down, displayed both at the top and the bottom of the article page (the extension only does it at the bottom; I tinkered a bit with the code to show it at the top as well). The extension has been installed on Groupprops; it will be carried over to other wikis as well.

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  1. […] and appearance to make it easier to find relevant information. Most of these build further on the page design changes blogged about earlier. These […]