Wikipedia is hard to use. WTF Search.
Posted on Oct 31, 2006
So. I love Wikipedia. I love encyclopedias. I love the knowledge and the ability to learn anything quickly. Wikipedia is special because it allows people to contribute their knowledge to the general content base. This is awesome. This alone is enough of a differentiation to make Wikipedia the choice for the new generation. But wtf can't they solve simple usability issues? Simple things even..
For instance. I was surfing Digg and I noticed an article about Cabrini-Green, the projects in Chicago. I have walked by these projects hundreds of times and decided I would check out the Wikipedia article about them. Now I don't use Wikipedia's search. I hate it. I have blogged about how ineffective their search is and how they don't solve the problems that need to be solved to have a good encyclopedia. So I never goto Wikipedia and search. Instead I take a guess at the wikiname for the article and attempt to type in the URL directly. For instance:
The article for the 60s/70s soul band the Delfonics becomes:
The article for the Chicago Bulls becomes:
So you can see how it is easy to guess the article URL. I think this is VERY important for usability. When you have are attempting to replicate an encyclopedia on the Internet, I feel that it is very important to make sure the "system" is easy to figure out. That way the organic browsing that happens when you are learning will be easy and nature. Rather than make it difficult for kids to figure out how to find an article - you make it easy for them to naturally change the URL and BAM - the get something new and thus learn. So wikipedia has this going for them. Except, they really don't.
The problem is consistency. Wikipedia isn't consistent on what works and what doesn't. One URL will work, one won't. One will redirect and capitalize and one won't. So lets go back to my original query. I typed in:
and it gave me a "Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name" page. When I KNOW I spelled it correctly; and more importantly I have used this method of finding articles before and it worked flawlessly. So what changed. Well, to find out what went wrong I copy "Cabrini green" into the search box and hit enter. And it redirects to the Cabrini-Green article. wtf. what did I do wrong. So I check out the URL:
The only difference is that the G is capitalized. Now I understand it probably has to do with the dash in the name, and the search is probably looking for similarities in titles and what not. But WHY didn't the "article not found" page show me that an article existed with a capital G? I mean is it that hard?
Now the wikipeople will say that something like this will compromise the integrity of the wikinames. And it may - however what is more important, the side cases where Cabrini-Green and Mr. Cabrini Green are confused - or the ability to guide people to the correct place. I think that guiding a person - or as Endeca likes to call it "guided navigation" - is obviously the best way handle users. It allows a user find or if not find - explore the content. It doesn't place a stop in their way because they didn't capitalize a character. Man. someone needs to step in and make wikipedia do search.
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