Interview: WikiWand's CEO on Wikipedia, the Importance of Good Design and Helping Out

Softpedia spoke to Lior Grossman, CEO of WikiWand

Aug 9, 2014 20:21 GMT  ·  By  · 

A couple of weeks back we discovered WikiWand, a browser tool that transforms Wikipedia into a place you enjoy visiting, not just for the information, but for the looks as well.

While the Wikipedia layout continues to be clean, its classic view is given by the fact that it hasn’t had a design overhaul in a decade, making it look rather outdated and sometimes difficult to read.

WikiWand changes all this and also makes the article pages easier to navigate with the help of a few well-placed buttons.  WikiWand is an extension that can be downloaded for Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

Lior Grossman, co-founder and CEO of WikiWand has agreed to answer a few questions for Softpedia following the official release of the app which happened just a few days ago.

Softpedia: Why did you choose to create this particular app and how did you come up with the idea for it?

Lior Grossman: WikiWand was born out of our own frustration. We use Wikipedia on a regular basis and find it an invaluable resource, a true gateway to the human knowledge. However, we found Wikipedia's user experience to be lacking, to say the least.

Starting for the fact you have to open dozens of tabs to learn a new topic, navigation within articles is difficult, large block of small text makes it hard to read, and many other annoyances. We knew something better was possible, since we saw how the world of web apps evolved in terms of user experience, while Wikipedia has stayed pretty much the same for the past 10 years.

That's why we decided to design and build a new, modern interface for Wikipedia.

How have users responded to the app so far?

Wow, initially we assume people would love to see Wikipedia's interface modernized, but we were absolutely blown away by how much users love WikiWand. We get dozens of emails and messages from users every week, saying how much they enjoy the product.

We've quickly reached 5 star rating on Chrome Web Store, with over 750 ratings, and hundreds of rave reviews. The love and support from the users really means a lot to us.

Is design an issue so important when it comes to the world’s largest encyclopedia?

Steve Jobs once said: design is not just what it looks and feels like, design is how it works.

Besides the obvious eye-candy, I think design is extremely important when it comes to the consumption of knowledge. A good design is important so you can quickly find what you're looking for, a good design allows you to easily read, understand and use the information.

Yes, learning should be pleasant, but WikiWand's design is not all about the eye candy. It's about making it easier to consume knowledge. It's about providing better readability, comprehension and navigation.

Tell us something about the elements of the app and how they change the layout of Wikipedia. What makes it special?

First, we had to get rid of the clutter, so we put all the languages, tools and common functionality in a slim toolbar. The toolbar collapses when scrolling down, so it doesn't interfere with reading, while still accessible everywhere in the page.

Then, we had to allow easier navigation. We did this by adding a table-of-contents on the left side. This table of contents is fixed so it allows quick and easy navigation throughout the article.

To avoid big blocks of text, we created a magazine-like reading column to allow for better readability.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That's why we've developed a technology that chooses one major picture per articles, and shows it as a big, full-width cover picture, or as a big portrait picture.

In addition, we decided to increase the size of the pictures inside the article, since most people use high-definition displays these days.

Has anyone from the Wikimedia Foundation contacted you about the app, giving you any sort of feedback?

Yes. We have talked to several people from the Wikimedia, both on the product-level and on the technical-level. Some of them found the app beautiful and refreshing, while some prefer the old layout due to the more accessible editing tools.

We mainly discussed the problems Wikipedia faces when trying to make design changes, since one of Wikipedia's principles is reaching consensus, and it's almost impossible to make big design changes while achieving consensus.

They would also love to see us contribute some of the code back to MediaWiki and the community, which we intend to do.

You said that you’d redirect 30 percent of the ad dollars to Wikipedia, which seems like a pretty generous idea. How did you come up with the idea and when will this happen since mention that it will take place “down the road”?

Wikipedia has to struggle each year to raise donations, and has limited budget when compared to the fact it's the world 5th largest website.

We did some research and figured out that people who use Wikipedia often search for books, researches, articles and educational materials - so displaying those could allow us to generate revenue, while providing added value to users.

Unfortunately, Wikipedia can't do this since they are a non-profit organization.

We can do it and we can become profitable, but we think it's our responsibility to support Wikipedia, which we are based upon - that's why we have decided to donate 30% of our profits to Wikipedia.

That way, by using WikiWand, people can enjoy a modern interface, while at the same time they indirectly donate to Wikipedia.

At the moment, we're focused on perfecting the product so we decided not to monetize, but I believe 12 months down the road, we'll start showing users relevant educational material.

What are your plans from here on out? What do you want to add to the app and how do you want to improve it?

We plan several improvements for the web app: improving the general user experience, introducing a few smart tools to allow people to learn faster, and improving the search of information, between and within article.

In addition, we've recently started working on our Android and iOS apps. We redesigned them from scratch to radically improve the way people consume information on the go.

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