Wikipedia:Easy navigation

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Working title for this guideline proposal: Easy navigation, other possibilities discussed on the talk page
WP:ENAV has been proposed as a shortcut to this proposed guideline, other possibilities discussed on the talk page

The intent of this guideline is to give a helicopter view on the different techniques that help users to navigate through the content of Wikipedia, in its capacity of web browser application, as swiftly as possible.

Wikipedia aims at completeness, that is: covering all knowledge that meets its criteria. As the content of the wikipedia encyclopedia increases (which is a good thing!) navigation becomes increasingly complex. This may hamper swift navigation as users, for example, may have to work through several disambiguation pages listing remote topics before finally reaching the desired page. So the natural "counterpart" of this guideline would be wikipedia:coverage, shortcut WP:COV[1]. "Counterpart" does not mean that these two guidelines would be actually opposed to one another: it's more of a collaboration. Each one completes the other, as wikipedia:naming conventions (common names) and wikipedia:naming conventions (precision) are each other's complement.

That distinction being made, this present "easy navigation" guideline deals with:

In short the topic of this guideline is: how does one "hop" to an article in the swiftest way.

The basic principle (rule of thumb) of this guideline is:

page names deal with navigation
article content deals with coverage

The remainder of this guideline is a consideration of how this principle can be implemented with maximum effect and also what happens when and where the "navigation" and "coverage" principles intersect (typically "disambiguation" pages, which are in essence "content" pages primarily listing "page names"). Further, this guideline describes how Wikipedia is part of this massive navigation system called the internet.

Subject of this guideline[edit]

Definitions of terms[edit]

Information path refers, generally, to a link or series of links which the user must follow to get from article A to article B. Information paths include wikilinks, lists, categories, navigation templates, redirects, "See also" sections, "External links" sections, and disambiguation pages. They also may include references within articles, both to other websites and to paper documents, and "Further reading" sections.

Information flow refers to the amount of useful information made available to the user through navigable information paths.

Purpose and goals[edit]

The general purposes of this proposal are to shorten information paths and increase information flow, wherever possible. This requires:

  1. A consistency in terms of appearance, placement, functionality, and content (or content type) across elements wherever possible.
  2. Optimizing information paths to increase navigability and ease of use.
  3. Anticipating and responding to ways in which users may want to navigate Wikipedia and what information paths may be the most useful to the users.
  4. Considering the impact and usefulness of different ways to link to other wiki projects such as Wikitionary and Wiki Quotes.

Wikipedia and navigation[edit]

One of the angles of getting started with this "Easy navigation" guideline was the issue of categories. There has been a lot of talk about them being politically oriented (which they sometimes are), but the only proposal usually is to delete them - which doesn't fix the problem, since the deletion is itself politically oriented.

Changing the way we think about these things may help to fix the problem. If we look at categories, for example, as ways to facilitate the users getting the information they want, and try to anticipate possible information paths, while restricting ourselves exclusively to that activity (not exclusively exclusively, but when we're doing information-path oriented categorization), we can maybe push through some of the problem areas in a more NPOV manner.

Likewise lists, redirects, and so on. This defines the main topic of this section: how contributors can increase the flow of information the user wants. Categorization schemes, new ways to use lists and redirects and disambiguation pages, even new ways to write articles can be considered from that perspective.

An overview of the ways to navigate in wikipedia includes:

  1. Links - see wikipedia:links
  2. Article titles - see wikipedia:naming conventions
  3. Disambiguation pages - see wikipedia:disambiguation
  4. Lists - see wikipedia:lists
  5. Categories - see wikipedia:categories
  6. Redirects - see wikipedia:redirects
  7. Templates - see wikipedia:navigational templates

Some of these navigation tools are discussed in the sections below, from this perspective of how they can facilitate information flow









Disambiguation pages[edit]

"La Reine Margot" example
Queen Margot (French La Reine Margot) was a novel written in 1845 by Alexandre Dumas, père.

It is the fictionalized story of the real Marguerite de Valois, wife of King Henry IV of France.

Several movies were based on the novel, including:

External links

Category:Book stubs Category:Film stubs Category:1845 books Category:1994 films Category:French novels Category:Alexandre Dumas

Making a good disambiguation page is an art as much as making any other wikipedia page. An example of how things can become a bit fuzzy: currently Queen Margot redirects to the page shown on the right as an example:

But what is this page? Is it a page about a queen named Marguerite? Is it a page about a French book? About one or more movies? Is it a stub? None of these: it's a disambiguation page in disguise. It's not a "content" page lacking "content", it basically links to other pages, only it lacks the clear navigational structure of a disambiguation page. Giving it a clearer disambiguation page structure, differentiating between links that go to pages that could be titled "Queen Margot", and accessory links, would make it more effective as a navigational aid.[3]

Indeed, a disambiguation page is a type of page that is meant not to retain a users' attention: the quicker a user clicks away, the better. As it is said in the text of the template for disambiguation pages it is a navigational aid and thus, according to the maxim of this guideline, not a content page but a page that lets page names do their job as navigation stepstones. So highlighting these clickable page names, avoiding to draw attention to anything else that would be "clickable".

Navigational templates[edit]

Web usability research teaches that anything that looks like a "banner", or is trying to attract too much attention on a webpage is perceived as publicity, and will thus be ignored (at best) or irritate and make the user leave the page. People accustomed to the Google interface will ignore anything that looks like a column of advertisements on the right of a screen.

For boilerplate templates on top of the page that's a good thing: users will immediately recognise the message in such box is no part of the content of the article itself (this is: will ignore the message), and will only come back to it if they experience "something isn't as it should be" when reading the content of the article.

Here is a discussion by examples of some types of navigational templates. As always, since templates borrow article space, (1) let the article names do the job, and, (2) limit the "borrowed" space:

Upper right corner[edit]

For example take the Postmodernism template at right - note that this template links to the era "preceding" postmodernism. A small detail, but one that helps the user that wants to compare both approaches to society and art. Nonetheless the template is small, factual, mentioning diverse intriguing topics.

A less successful example is Template:S-C-G-B - this template is intended to be used on the pages of members of the Belgian royal family. It is too high to fit on a standard screen. Furthermore, as it is for use on pages of persons it usually conflicts with the upper right corner image of the person, so most of it is below the screen. For some of the members of this royal family, whose history can be told in about half a page, that amounts to bad lay-out with a lot of whitespace (example: Prince Charles of Belgium). The coat of arms displayed on top of the template is too big with its flashy colors to make people even look at it.

Bottom of the page[edit]

Example: Template:Symphonies by number and name - navigational aid across lists, disambiguation pages, categories and content pages: assists in quickly finding the encyclopedia article on whatever symphony you're looking for: no symphony article is more than two clicks away from a page that displays this template (for example: Symphonies by number).

A special type of bottom-of-the-page navigational templates are the incumbent series templates, for example, from James I of England (using the convoluted "two to three" succession box):

Preceded by
Elizabeth I
King of England
Succeeded by
Charles I
King of Ireland
Preceded by
Mary I
King of Scots

Which could also be the following (using the newer Wikipedia:Incumbent series boxes):

Preceded by
Elizabeth I
James I, King of England and Ireland
Succeeded by
Charles I
Preceded by
Mary I
James VI, King of Scots
Succeeded by
Charles I

...reducing height and redundant whitespace around the template, while nonetheless also mentioning the different name the monarch had in each realm (clarifying something that is too convoluted to communicate by the page name of the article on this monarch).

Note that such incumbent boxes are typically at the intersection of navigational and content characteristics of wikipedia:

  • They are navigational, so should not take too much room in "article space";
  • They are content, in that they can add some content and context that are withdrawn from the page name while that additional info would make the page name too long.

Other navigational aids[edit]

Navigational aids that only become operational in wikipedia when a user installs them include:


  1. ^ The "Version 1.0" project/"stable versions" proposal would probably presently come nearest to this coverage idea.
  2. ^ That Wikipedia can be seen as a competitor to other encyclopedias follows, for instance, from the 28 July 2004 interview Jimbo Wales gave to Slashdot:

    Q3: Was wondering if you view the Wikipedia as a competitor or an additional tool compared to a World Book or an Encyclopedia Britannica?

    To which Jimbo Wales replied:

    I would view them as a competitor [...]

  3. ^ The intention of this example is not to have no page about Alexandre Dumas' "Reine Margot" book: on the contrary: it suggests to make separate pages: one for disambiguation, one about the book.