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Recent improvements

The subject wikis are being upgraded to MediaWiki 1.16.0beta (see here for the security release). The high traffic wikis have already been upgraded; others should be upgraded in a few days. We’re also upgrading to Semantic MediaWiki 1.5.0.

The default skin on the upgraded wikis is the “Vector” skin, which is the same as Wikipedia’s new default skin. Those who want to change the skin appearance back to monobook should create an account and change their user settings. Users who already have accounts may still have their settings as “monobook” — so they need to manually change the settings to “vector.” For more information about why Wikipedia switched to a vector skin, see Usability Initiative.

Apart from these software changes, we’re also making changes to page content and appearance to make it easier to find relevant information. Most of these build further on the page design changes blogged about earlier. These include:

  • Front-ending the definitions: For long pages, the definition is being moved right to the top, above the table of contents and the article-tagging template boxes, which give information about the type of term and similar terms. This means that people in a hurry can quickly read the definition without scrolling down too much. This change may be rolled over even for shorter pages.

  • Increased use of tables: Tables allow for a compact expression of relates, correlates and analogies, and also make it easier to locate information. On the minus side, it becomes tedious to put detailed and lengthy paragraphs in a table. We are dealing with this by putting the most important summary information in tables with further detailed information below expandable/collapsible “SHOW MORE”s. Even for definitions, we are switching from the earlier “Symbol-free definition” and “Definition with symbols” as separate subsections to a single tabular format for definitions where one column gives a shorthand phrase for the definition, one column gives the symbol-free definition, and another column gives the definition with symbols (for instance, pronormal subgroup (permalink to current version). Additional columns may include applications of a particular definition to ways to prove/use the given term. We are also using tables for references, as seen in this example, making them easier to parse as well as look up.

  • Increased use of expandables/collapsibles: Expandable/collapsible “SHOW MORE”s allow for a lot of relevant information to be placed within pages without causing a cognitive overload or making the page too much effort to scroll down. Expandable/collapsibles are used both within pre-defined templates and on a discretionary basis within pages. Sometimes, the most important things are stated and the rest are hidden under a “SHOW MORE” — for instance, the list of properties stronger than characteristicity. The “SHOW MORE” feature uses the MediaWiki extension ToggleDisplay.

  • A continued shift away from categories to semantic constructions: We are continually trimming down the use of categories to the level where they help with broad “containment”-based navigations. We’re moving all relations and analogies to the semantic realm, which is much more flexible and allows for more powerful querying. For instance, variations on a particular term are no longer stored in a MediaWiki category, but can instead be accessed using a semantic query — for instance, here’s the query for variations of normal subgroup.

  • More suggested semantic queries: The pages now often contain links to semantic queries that might answer further questions the reader could or should have. Many of these links are generated automatically through templates.