Wikimedia Blog/Drafts/The Puzzle Globe

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The Wikipedia Logo -



ADD VIDEO about globe fix

A partial globe hangs in the Wikimedia office in San Francisco.

It's almost as old as the website itself, and by now is practically synonymous. Wikipedia's logo - or the puzzle globe - has been a mainstay of the website for over ten years.

Upon Wikipedia's emergence as the immediate successor to Nupedia in 2001, co-founder Larry Sanger asked for suggestions for "something that fits the spirit of the project, includes one or more of the words ["Wikipedia" and "the free encyclopedia"], and fits in the upper right hand corner of the web page". Within only a couple of months, twenty-four suggestions were presented to the community for discussion.

And thus, Wikipedia's logo for almost two years was a Hobbes quote, cut directly from Leviathan, and shaped roughly into a sphere.

Stansifer's logo won an international contest to design the new Wikipedia logo in 2003.

This simple, yet quirky and original, concept lasted until 2003. A competition - known simply as the "international logo contest" - was proposed by Erik Moeller, who is now the Deputy Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. He argued that the Hobbes logo was biased towards the English language, ugly, and put across a point of view, the opposite of what Wikipedia was trying to become.

Paul Stansifer was barely an adult when he submitted his proposal for the new logo. It is perhaps no surprise that the exact inspiration for his design eludes him - but he was definitely in the kitchen when it struck.

"I think I remember where I was, which way I was facing," he says. "I don't really remember exactly what form the idea took. I basically immediately settled on the idea of puzzle pieces, sphere and incompleteness, but I don't remember like at what point I decided that it needed to be incomplete, which is of course crucial to the symbolism."

He pins his initial thoughts to a globe lamp sat in the room with him. "So I hope that I thought of it early, because otherwise, what was I thinking?"

Over the late summer and early autumn of 2003, the Wikipedia community - at the time a small but vocal group of users - proposed a total of 150 logos for consideration. Some were colourful, some were symbolic, but in the end the people had their say.

One of those logos was a creation by Stansifer. A globe crafted from puzzle pieces of various colours, with words of various languages woven through. Some were blue and underlined, which at the time was synonymous with an internal link on the website.

Paul Stansifer was a teenager when his concept won a competition to design the new logo.

"Everyone looked at entries that they liked, and they commented, and they gave suggestions, and I fiddled around with them just to try out the various ideas," Stansifer recalls. "It was really cool because I was interacting with other people on the Internet, and none of them had any idea that I was just this kid. And it didn't matter. It was all about the process of creating a logo."

Stansifer's puzzle globe emerged victorious, edging out what would eventually become the Wikimedia Foundation and Mediawiki logos respectively. "It was ridiculous because I'm not an artist at all. I'm a seventeen-year-old who just graduated high school, and is sitting on his parent's couch just tapping away on his laptop because, hey, this is something interesting to do," he says.

"There was a one hundred euro reward as an award for the contest," he adds. "The funny thing about that was after I'd won the contest, and the person [Moeller] contacted me to send it by PayPal, this was the first time that I ever had to admit that I was actually a minor, and so therefore couldn't have a PayPal account. That was the only point in the entire process that I ever had to admit that I was just this kid."

Eventually the logo made its way to every Wikipedia in existence at that time, though not everyone was so enamoured with his work.

"It was kind of ugly," remarks David Friedland, a member of the Wikipedia community for around three months at the time of the vote. "After that won there was some outcry. I was among those who complained, because it was pretty ugly and I didn't really think that the logo that had won the contest, that image, would make for a good public space for the project."

"At the time the project was still pretty small, so I felt personally invested because of some of the other work that I had done with Wikipedia on how the project would be viewed by the public."

Stansifer explains that the logo was the subject of a major discussion as to its appropriateness and technical quality. "The colorful version was on for I think a few weeks. And it had some serious problems. It was really busy and instead of what we now think of with a single character on each piece, it had running text that was just like the mixture of various languages. Some of them were underlined in blue to symbolize wiki links because I was still being really literalistic about it."

Wikipedia's logo used from 2003 until 2010

Numerous Wikipedians presented updates to Sandifer's winning concept to improve its display and to clean it up. Friedland's idea - to strip away the colour and focus on glyphs, rather than words - proved very popular.

"In some ways I think that the lack of colour is like nicely symbolic of a neutral point of view," Stansifer says. "It's something that at least aspires to be a consistent overall whole - it doesn't hew one way or another."

Friedland elected to take the initial letter of the word "Wikipedia" - the "W" - and use its equivalent in fifteen different languages to decorate his globe. "Obviously a lot of the concept is Paul's, the idea of the pieces and incompleteness," he explains, "but then, each piece could represent either a language or a culture or a country by way of having the written character on it."

"Although I do wish that I had come up with a more strong story for each character, in a way a lot of it was kind of something that in my mind looked neat. Which ten years hence doesn't really come off as a very deep or symbolic way of choosing the symbols."

The focus on single characters was a marked change from both the solid-text logo of the early years and from Stansifer's POV-Ray creation. Friedland saw his version of the logo as a minimal, but effective, way to put across the multiculturalism of Wikipedia.

"One of my majors was in linguistics," Friedland says. "I kind of always had an interest in languages and writing systems and so I was familiar with a number of different writing systems used in different languages around the world."

"I felt that using a variety of writing systems would embody the Wikipedia concept of multiculturalism and multilingualism. By putting one character from many different systems onto the globe it would convey that concept right away of internationalism. The fact that each piece of the puzzle maybe comes from a different culture or a different language, or a different country, but they all combine together."

A third dimension[edit]

A "Wikiball", the first representation of the puzzle globe in three dimensions.

This logo remained in place through most of Wikipedia's growth, during the period in which the project really started to gain global attention and recognition. It was only in 2007 that users began to spot minor errors in the glyphs used on the logo, and notably, began to wonder what exactly should be pictured on the hidden pieces of the globe.

At Wikimania 2007 in Taiwan, a 3D puzzle globe was created, with information about Wikipedia's sister projects written into the as-yet-unseen areas of the sculpture. And thus, the community began to wonder just what the whole globe would look like in three dimensions.

The original project files were lost somewhere between 2003 and 2007; Friedland told the New York Times that "I have tried to reconstruct it, but it never looks right". the Wikimedia Foundation eventually launched an initiative to fix the logo's errors, remove some out-of-date glyphs, and create something that was better suited to scaling.

Nimish Gautam was a member of the usability team at the Wikimedia Foundation, and was part of the effort to create a more thorough version of the logo. "We were trying to make the site a little bit more usable and one of the things that I noticed was that among many other issues that we had with the code when we were fixing the code was the puzzle globe itself was off," he says.

"In the original puzzle globe, the bottom pieces didn't have anything on them, there were fictional languages on it, there were some markings missing from the Hindi and the Japanese. I saw that and I thought, 'why hasn't anyone fixed it yet?'."

"And it turns out actually the community had," he adds. "The community took a vote, an entire process, and created a new puzzle globe, one that actually represents a lot of the languages that are used in Wikipedia."

Between 2009 and 2010, the community identified a number of languages that were not already represented on the globe. Friedland's design featured fifteen alphabets, including the fictional Klingon, the Wikipedia in which was wound down in 2005. After deliberation, 51 glyphs were selected to decorate the sides of the new three-dimensional logo.

"All the characters were characters that were actually used in the world 'Wikipedia' when transliterated into the various languages, and it actually represents languages that are used, that are active, that we have volunteers in," Gautam explains.

To craft the logo, the Foundation hired Philip Metschan, a San Francisco-based 3D animation artist and art director, to turn the final 2D map into a three-dimensional model of the new globe. They then hired Because We Can, a design firm based in Oakland, to create a physical model of the globe, which to this day hangs on a wall in the Foundation's San Francisco headquarters.

The French fork[edit]

The Wikipedia logo was not unanimously taken on by every project. Several chose to go their own way and use their own inventions. The French Wikipedia in particular went for a large circle, decorated with a green gradient, a white dove, and the words "Wikipedia: L'encyclopédie libre".

Florence Devouard, who later become one of the first community-elected members of the Wikimedia Foundation's board, was an early contributor to the French-language edition of Wikipedia. "We [the French Wikipedia community] were not on the same server and there were very few links between communities," she explains. "Amongst all folks on the French Wikipedia there were only two of us also editing in English."

Rinaldum, a user who was among the first to join the French project, took the very bold step of simply creating a new logo to replace the Hobbes quotation sphere that adorned the project at the time. "In short, Rinaldum wanted to surprise us, created the logo, contacted Jason [Richey, system administrator] to set it up... and when I woke up one morning, I saw a broken logo," says Devouard.

"I asked what it was, and another user answered it was the new logo... and I said, 'what new logo?'. Jason also asked Rinaldum if there was consensus - naturally not since it was a surprise. Rinaldum was upset, Jimbo informed and not very happy."

The logo was in the top-left corner of the French Wikipedia very briefly, and a few months later Rinaldum came back with some refined versions of the logo. "The community had grown a bit, we had switched to Mediawiki," Devouard says. "There were more relationships between communities, to a certain extent. I guess most of the French were not fans of Rinaldum's logo, so did not really push for it."

"Looking back, that seems like a tempest in a glass. But I think it was one of the first real discussions, rather than lazy agreements, within our community — and our first real contact with Jimbo. [After that, I desired] to make sure that all languages grow together rather than separately."

License change[edit]

While they represented the freedom of knowledge and the community whose collective goal was to provide this, the logos themselves were not freely licensed until October 2014. The Foundation's legal department, following a review, announced the move to a Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license on this very blog.

"Wikimedia Commons’ mission is to disseminate free and public domain content to everyone," legal counsel Yana Welinder wrote. "We are thrilled that the copyright status of Wikimedia logos will now be fully aligned with that goal."

The move means that anyone can use the logos under the terms of both the Creative Commons license, and the easy-to-understand Trademarks Policy.


(see discussion page)