Insights from mobile user experience research

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Mobile Wikipedia readers in Brazil
Mobile Wikipedia readers in Brazil

As part of our commitment to provide free knowledge to everyone, the foundation has been redesigning our mobile platform ( and to enhance the reading experience and allow editing.  As a first step towards the redesign of the mobile gateway to better meet the needs of our users in the Global South, we conducted user experience research in India and Brazil among current and future users of Wikipedia mobile last summer.  We also carried out user experience research in the US to have a comparison with a mobile market which is more mature in terms of smartphone and 3G penetration, and has a more widespread adoption of tablets.
Our research in India and Brazil brought forth the following three opportunities with the greatest perceived impact for the mobile platform:

  1. Improving our search:  Our research revealed that there was a need to provide search suggestions, autocomplete, autocorrect and other tools that ease typing and search burdens on mobile devices; support search in all language Wikipedias as well as allowing users to chose and switch between languages; incorporate transliteration tools for languages with fonts and characters that have poor mobile support; support and even enhance users’ existing habits to use Google to reach Wikipedia articles; and enable users to search within a Wikipedia page. We are happy to report that drawing from the research our mobile team has already implemented some of these opportunities like full page search, autocomplete  and inter-wiki links into our mobile beta site.
  2. Optimizing our reading experience for mobile devices and generalized use.  Through our research, especially in India, we found that we were not redirecting a large breadth of devices in use to our mobile site. The mobile team quickly fixed this issue with the adoption of the open source library tera-WURFL for detecting mobile devices.  After speaking with respondents in India and Brazil, we found that there was a desire among users to modify or set one-time preferences for the display of images, the font size, and any element that affects page loading time and size. Similarly, there is an opportunity for allowing  preferences for language and navigation; the ability to watch or bookmark articles; or save content offline; offer content in more digestible pieces, or with quicker access (i.e. preview or easy access to the first paragraph, or a new “mobile summary”); search offline, i.e., while in transit or without a data plan; and generally follow expectations set by mobile web interactions and standards.  Some of these recommendations have been incorporated into our mobile product strategy.  Through this research we felt it was crucial to offer both an official iOS and Android app (which was officially released in January) that offers at minimum a simple and easy search and reading experience.
  3. Using the mobile platform to both increase user engagement and awareness of features on Wikipedia as well as providing new opportunities for participation. The mobile site and potential apps provide many new pathways for both engagement, participation, and contribution.  At present, the mobile site can be used to build awareness around existing features on the site that current users are blind to (i.e. watchlists, accounts, editing, inter-language links, history); to provide features that make opening a Wikipedia account worth having, something that the majority of our participants do not currently see any reason to have; increase visibility of local language Wikipedias, especially in India since many English readers were not aware of the existence of Indic Wikipedias; prompt users to download an official app when possible; and interface with other web content on mobile devices (Google, news, entertainment, and sports content, for example “Wikitap”).  The contributions that showed the highest potential for adoption were adding photographs, “flagging” or “marking” something that needs to be edited, removing or marking vandalism, adding links, adding location or geodata, and potentially making small typing or formatting edits.
  4. Mobile Editing. And finally, the mobile site can support the editing practice of existing editors by first offering those features in a mobile friendly format which are currently in high use on the site.  Those with the highest demand and potential are the “recent changes” page, which is consumed like an update feed or email; accessing watch lists; making reverts, especially with respect to vandalism; logging in and accessing account and user pages; and serving discussion pages and article histories.

If you are interested in reading about our research in India and Brazil in detail, we have compiled the insights in a report which is available in PDF and wiki format. You can also watch video highlights from the interviews and check out some photographs from the field work in India and Brazil.
Mani Pande, Head of Global Development Research

Archive notice: This is an archived post from, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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