Interface Lessons From Wikipedia's Most Popular Pages

Wikipedia's annual list of its most popular pages shows that we're very keen to research TV shows. But it also shows that user expectations around search are something you need to consider carefully when designing webapps.

It's no surprise to check the list of top 100 sites and discover contemporary TV shows and movies (Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Bollywood movies and Doctor Who all rank highly). What's slightly more surprising is some of the other inclusions: Facebook is the top result, and Google, YouTube, Lycos and Yahoo! are all present as well.

The widely-accepted explanation for this is that people weren't always looking for any of those topics. They have become so used to typing the search term they want into Google as a means of navigating to that site they do this even when they're not on the main Google page. So someone looking for Facebook on Wikipedia may well be looking for facebook.com, not for a community-edited article about the company.

Many are also so used to auto-complete that they type just a couple of letters and then expect it to complete. That would help explain why the letter 'G' and the game 'Go' are also highly-ranked in the top 100 for many different language editions of Wikipedia; those results come from people type the letter 'G' or 'Go' and then hitting enter.

From a developer perspective, this creates an interesting challenge. On the one hand, search is now the primary means by which many people navigate content and apps, and it makes sense to respect that by including a search option. If you hide search or make it something that users have to pull onto the screen, it won't work well. (Microsoft learned that lesson with the Windows 8 Store; the original version didn't have a search box on the main screen at all, but it was reintroduced in Windows 8.1 following user complaints.)

That said, clearly a proportion of users are also using search in a fairly clueless manner, not even recognising that they're no longer on a Google home page. That means you might need to anticipate a proportion of meaningless search inputs, and adjust your results screens to suit.

Most viewed articles on Wikipedia 2013 [via The Guardian]


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