What do the people want? Part 1: Internationalized templates

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 guts of Template:Infobox in the English Wikipedia

The guts of Template:Infobox in the English Wikipedia. This is the horrible, unreadable and unmaintainable code behind the nice boxes that you see on the sides of Wikipedia articles.

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…

3 Responses to “What do the people want? Part 1: Internationalized templates”

  1. 1 wizardist 2012-04-26 at 14:16

    Oh, that was a one-week horror for me when I was importing WP:ROUTE templates to Belarusian Wikipedia. It’s almost done and quite usable, but the original templates have gone much further in the development, and the templates in Belarusian Wikipedia are as of 2010. That sucks.

    A centralized template storage with i18n support would be a freaking awesome stuff. But, to provide interoperability btw. two different wikis (styles and other stuff), different techniques should be approached. Wiki-syntax per se sucks at 100 per cent.

  2. 2 Спас Колев 2012-04-26 at 15:29

    To make it even more entertaining for some templates you need to copy also CSS definitions – *that* would be hard to transclude between wikis. :/

    • 3 wizardist 2012-04-26 at 17:52

      That’s not really hard. ResourceLoader + shared styles. Well, it’s OK while they don’t interfere with local styles and break the game.

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