The technical issue that the participants of the Turkic Wikimedia Conference in Almaty asked me about more than anything else is migrating templates from bigger Wikipedias. MediaWiki Templates are one of the most important tools for writing Wikipedia articles more effectively and for making them informative, eye-pleasing and easier to read.
For the article writers, however, templates are a nightmare. Their syntax is horrible and unreadable; it’s hard to write them, hard to use them and hard to modify them. The fact that so many people nevertheless do it is quite astounding.
The English and the Russian Wikipedias have thousands of templates that would be just as useful in any language. Unfortunately, actually re-using them in other languages is very hard: each template must be manually copied and translated; templates that are nested in this template must be manually copied one-by-one recursively; and if the template in the original language was updated, it must be updated manually again. (The same problem pertains to MediaWiki gadgets, such as Twinkle and RefToolbar.)
This problem is not new. MediaWiki developers are more or less aware of it, and over the years they have been trying to solve it in various ways, but until now this didn’t actually happen. A partial solution may come from the Wikidata project, but it is just beginning. Also, some time soon the Lua programming language may became usable as the new template language that will gradually replace all those curly brackets. However, that will take time, too, and by itself it will only improve the readability of the syntax and maybe the performance, but it won’t provide an easy solution for internationalization.
All I could say at this point is that I’ll try to pass the word on and remind the developers of the importance of this issue.
To be continued…