The Global templates proposal is in harmony with many of the strategic directions and goals as published by the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia Germany in several documents. This page intends to show how.
Wikimedia Foundation Medium-term plan 2019
The Wikimedia Foundation Medium-term plan 2019 (“MTP”) has several priorities and goals. Here is how the Global templates proposal relates to many of them:
MTP: Brand awareness
On first glance the Brand awareness goal does not seem to be directly related to the Global templates proposal. Brand awareness is about communication, and Global templates is a technology project proposal. However, they do correspond to each other closely. Some of Wikimedia sites’ most notable features, such as Infoboxes, footnotes, and “citation needed”, are implemented using templates. For the people who read in the languages in which there are successful editions of Wikipedia, they are as much a part of the Wikipedia brand as the puzzle globe logo. Having them implemented in a modern, consistent, robust, and multilingual way will make the brand more stable and internationalized, and will raise its recognition across the globe.
MTP: Worldwide readership
Make incremental but meaningful changes to our core products: The templates form a part of the core product, for any definition of “core product”. If MediaWiki is the core product, templates are one of its key features. If Wikipedia, Commons, Wikidata, Wikisource, other wikis, and their reading and editing experiences, are the core product, then templates are used in them ubiquitously, and should be treated at the highest level, and not just taken for granted. Making templates global is incremental because it preserves the syntax and the quick deployment aspects of templates and only changes the way in which templates are shared across wikis, and it is meaningful because it will directly address several usability and discoverability issues.
Substantially extend our core product experiences: This priority is about integrating content from Commons, Wikidata, Wikisource and other projects into Wikipedia, and about structured data. Implementing global templates will go a long way to making content propagation between different and wikis easier, and will empower all editor communities to innovate in it by themselves. It will also dramatically increase the exposure of Commons, Wikidata, Wikisource, and various structured data projects to the general public in all languages. See also the sections on Structured Data on Commons and WikiCite on this page.
Change the paradigm of free knowledge: Global templates do not break how Wikipedia works, and they allow the communities to work more efficiently on developing innovative features. These are the same communities that created the articles’ prose since 2001 and the templates since 2004, and made Wikipedia in many languages so successful in the first place. Reusing the communities’ current skill-set and making it easier for these people to collaborate will bring even greater innovation and new paradigms of free knowledge.
MTP: Thriving movement
We will welcome and support newcomers: Global templates will make templates easier to use for newcomers in both small and large wikis. In particular, it takes into account not just newcomers in the sense of “new editors in an existing wiki”, but also editors in completely new wikis who had not edited in any other wiki, for example editors of wikis in new languages.
We will have strong, diverse, and innovative communities that represent the world: Making templates global will make communities stronger and more diverse by allowing them to collaborate efficiently. It will make the communities more innovative by allowing technical innovation from any wiki to be easily used on all other wikis. This is a particularly important point, because there is considerable technical innovation in templates and modules on medium-sized wikis, and it is frequently overlooked.
We will have strategic partnerships and coalitions with aligned organizations / We will have strong and empowered movement leaders and affiliates: It may seem non-obvious, but making templates global will address this issue, too. One example is that many chapters said that they are reluctant about teaching people to use Content Translation more widely because it is not stable enough with infobox and reference templates. Global templates will fully address this problem, and it is just one out of many.
MTP: Platform evolution
Software platforms with integrated machine learning, rich media, and structured data components, and associated tooling for internal and external development and reuse of code and content: Global templates will help make all templates semantic and easier to process for machine learning algorithms. This will make rich media and structured data components easier to reuse across projects. And of course, reuse of code and content is what the whole Global templates proposal is all about.
Fully automated and continuous code health and deployment infrastructure: Templates and modules (and also gadgets) currently do not go through any consistent code health or deployment infrastructure. Some templates and modules have test suites, but there is no consistent framework for this, and developing such a consistent framework will not be scalable without storing the templates in a central place. And templates and modules do need a code health and deployment infrastructure, because, just like core MediaWiki and extensions, they implement important and notable features, and they are code.
Tooling for contributors is easy to use, well-documented, and accessible to users, increasing engagement and contribution: This, again, is a central point of the whole Global templates proposal: making (onwiki) tools easy to use and accessible for contributors. The proposal even addresses documentation.
One of the metrics for the Platform evolution priority is: “25% of content consumed or created uses structured data. This includes Wikidata but also extends to content from articles, templates, and other sources stored in formats that can be used programmatically for various contribution and consumption formats.” If templates become global, then it is likely that much more than 25% of them will be using structured data. In any case, measuring this will be far easier on one central wiki repository than on 900 wikis.
Wikimedia movement strategy phase 1
The strategic direction defined at the conclusion of Phase 1 of the Movement Strategy process, which started in 2017, is the following:
By 2030, Wikimedia will become the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge, and anyone who shares our vision will be able to join us.
We, the Wikimedia contributors, communities, and organizations, will advance our world by collecting knowledge that fully represents human diversity, and by building the services and structures that enable others to do the same.
We will carry on our mission of developing content as we have done in the past, and we will go further.
Knowledge as a service: To serve our users, we will become a platform that serves open knowledge to the world across interfaces and communities. We will build tools for allies and partners to organize and exchange free knowledge beyond Wikimedia. Our infrastructure will enable us and others to collect and use different forms of free, trusted knowledge.
Knowledge equity: As a social movement, we will focus our efforts on the knowledge and communities that have been left out by structures of power and privilege. We will welcome people from every background to build strong and diverse communities. We will break down the social, political, and technical barriers preventing people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge.
The Global templates proposal is in harmony with this direction:
Anyone who shares our vision will be able to join us: This is a key point, and the Global templates proposal addresses it directly as a solid issue, and not just an intangible, vague, feel-good catchphrase or mission statement. The inability to use templates that are available on large projects such as English, French, and Russian Wikipedia, the English Wikisource, or the English Wiktionary has been repeatedly brought up by people who start new wikis as the biggest thing that literally makes it difficult for them to join us. Making the templates global will directly address this problem.
We will carry on our mission of developing content as we have done in the past, and we will go further: The Global templates proposal explicitly says that it will preserve the templates and modules technology and the skills of the many people who have maintained the templates and the modules in many wikis and languages over the last fifteen years, and that the change will only be in the way that the templates are stored. It will also help the communities to go further by collaborating and exchanging the innovations more conveniently.
Open knowledge to the world across interfaces and communities: Making templates global will help editor communities and software developers to work together on features that are much easier to adapt to different devices. Currently, the disparate and non-robust nature of the templates’ code make them too hard to adapt for mobile screens, so they are displayed badly and inconsistently, or completely hidden. (The most notable examples are main pages, navigation boxes, and maintenance hatnotes.)
Knowledge equity: The lack of Global templates is the greatest technical barrier to contribution in new wikis and wikis with small communities. These communities have been left out by our infrastructure’s inability to support the sharing of templates across wikis.
Wikimedia movement strategy phase 2
Preliminary detailed recommendations, September 2019
The second phase of the Wikimedia movement strategy process, published a set of detailed recommendations in September 2019. These were further summarized into the final recommendations published in May 2020 (see below).
One of the detailed recommendations published in 2019 by the Product and Technology working group make similar points about the need to Modernize Technical Contributor Tooling: Product & Technology/6B. One of this recommendation’s suggestions is to have “code sharing and localization”, which corresponds directly to the main goal of the Global templates proposal. It also recommends “code review, continuous integration and code deployment for on-wiki code, [and] logging and monitoring for hosted code”; while these are not addressed by the Global templates proposal directly, having templates hosted in one central place will make all of these things easier.
Another, more philosophical point that that recommendation makes, corresponds to one of the problems identified in the Global templates proposal. The Strategy recommendation says:
... power users heavily rely on decentralized tools (gadgets, templates and Lua modules, Toolforge tools, bots, desktop apps) built by members of their own community who are expert in their problems, workflows and use cases (and this is especially true for machine-readable and largely machine-maintained projects like Wikidata, which are particularly important for knowledge as a service), but we don’t understand and support these tool maintainer communities, and the development environments we provide them are substandard and frustrating to use...
The corresponding part of the Global templates proposal in in the “Templates and modules development skills” section:
The skills for developing templates and modules are non-trivial. Both templates and modules have a lot of obscure features. Even though many of the sites’ most notable features are implemented as templates and modules, these skills are often underappreciated and taken for granted. There are dozens of people who have these skills, and they edit many different wikis. They usually focus on their home wiki and relatively rarely communicate with people from other wikis or other languages. Even though the underlying technology is the same everywhere, there is no true global community of template developers that would be comparable to the global community of MediaWiki core and extensions developers. There are cases of cross-wiki collaboration on certain templates, but they are inconsistent. This situation is far from optimal. The template and module developers’ skills need more appreciation. They develop truly needed features, and they are embedded in their editors communities. In wikis in many languages, the template developers come up with innovative features for structured content, data presentation, and modularization. These innovations could be useful in many wikis, but currently there is no convenient mechanism to achieve this.
Final published recommendations, May 2020
The final summarized recommendations published in May 2020 say in the Improve User Experience chapter, that one of the Actions to be done is:
Create procedures and practices to improve the use of all Wikimedia projects, for those consuming or creating free knowledge, as well as extending functionalities:
- Tools to connect cross-project and cross-language functionalities to provide an enhanced experience of the knowledge contained in the Wikimedia ecosystem for a particular interest, informational need, or inquiry.
- Clear pathways for advancing new wiki proposals (including new language versions) and for reusing community-developed software features on them.
A repository of Global templates can become a central part of implementing these cross-project and cross-language functionalities and reusing community-developed software features.
Platform Evolution 2018 project
The Platform Evolution project (2018) researched various stakeholders among the users of MediaWiki. In its conclusion, its leaders published a long list of goals. Among other things, it indicated some intentions to have support for global templates in the future. The page Platform Evolution/Recommendations discusses ideas for updating content modularity, and says:
Create a service for rendering components from template content
Templates in the MediaWiki ecosystem are overloaded with different use cases: they provide content structure, reusable components, and allow contributors to modify the display of content with custom logic. This recommendation has strong potential for creating modularization that benefits the system as a whole. It is tricky to discuss though, because "templates" mean different things to different people and have different use cases. In this case, we don't mean Mustache templates that govern look and feel. We mean encapsulating the "boxes" of content that are added to pages. These may (or may not) take parameters defining some of their content. A first step for the Working Group will be to define what is included in this "template" modularization effort and what isn't.
These “boxes” are an ideal focus area for creating modularity. They represent self contained features and also an opportunity to enable equitable sharing of user features across projects and languages be establishing a cross-project service to share templates. This project will also force us to consider how to handle content layout and structure separately from composable pieces content.
The closely related page Platform Evolution/Goals lists this as one of the goals:
Increase equity and power of contribution tools. We want to support the contribution of more content types of content, including media, in more interactive ways and across all projects. This means making some existing tools - like templates - available for consistent reuse across all projects and languages. It also means improving translation tools to remove silos of content. Finally, we also want to make it easy for contributors to create new cross-project, localizable content tools.
The Global templates proposal is completely harmonious with these goals and recommendations, and it attempts to describe in detail how this feature will work from the users’ point of view.
Finally, the Global templates proposal also corresponds to some key points in the Wikidata strategy documents, which were published in August 2019.
In particular, the Vision document lists the following two things as roadblocks to better development of Wikidata:
- Acceptance inside the Wikimedia projects: Right now the movement consists of multiple, very separated projects. This leads to fractured communities. To truly fulfill its potential, Wikidata requires these separate projects to work together to some extent. This causes friction that needs to be addressed.
- Data access usability: Getting data out of and truly benefiting from Wikidata still requires a lot of effort and technical knowledge. For example, building an infobox powered by Wikidata requires skills in template and Lua programming that especially smaller projects often lack.
The Global templates proposal directly addresses both of these issues. Creating a central repository will make the projects less separated and the communities — less fractured. A central repository will make working together easier.
Data access usability will also be addressed. Information is most often brought in from Wikidata into Wikipedia, Commons, and other projects using templates and modules, and collaborating on developing these modules will make this easier for all projects. And smaller projects will get immediate access to all the necessary templates and Lua modules even if they do not have people who have the necessary skills.
In addition, the Strategy for Wikidata for Wikimedia projects document lists the following things as Guiding principles:
- We do not force any project to adopt Wikidata’s data. Integration with Wikidata is only sustainable if it is driven by the communities.
- Each project is unique in what benefits and drawbacks Wikidata adoption has for them. It’s ok to have different adoption rates and focuses based on each project’s maturity andneeds.
- Sometimes local overwrites and exceptions to Wikidata’s data are necessary. That’s ok but we strive for sharing as much data as possible to the benefit of everyone while allowing local autonomy where needed.
The Global templates proposal is in full harmony with these principles. It says: “Sometimes some communities will have strong opinions about wanting to have particular functionality or design that will be different in their language or project, or to show an infobox with information that is different from what is shown in other projects, or not to show it at all. The capability to override things locally must be allowed from the start.”
WikiCite is a Wikimedia initiative to develop a database of open citations and linked bibliographic data to serve free knowledge. It has only begun recently and does not appear to have an official strategic plan of its own, but it is mentioned in all the Wikidata strategy documents.
WikiCite may develop into a successful system for storage of structured citations, but such a system will also need a frontend to be fully useful. Wikimedia’s primary frontend for WikiCite will likely be the references, which most often appear as footnotes or bibliography items in Wikipedia articles and Wikisource books in different languages. These are often implemented using templates, and in many wikis they are among the most frequently used ones. As all templates, they are maintained separately in each language, and even though there are some manual attempts to make them compatible, this is far from working perfectly.
If these templates will be global, then it will be possible to reuse the structured data equally easily in all languages. This will contribute to the reliability of information across all languages, and to the ease of information sharing, propagation, translation, and verification. This does not mean that Wikipedias in all languages will have to use the same formatting and appearance for references—it is fine for different languages and scientific fields to have different citation styles. The internal citation metadata, however, is the same, and when the same facts can be supported by the same reference, one global template can be used to connect the texts in Wikipedia to the WikiCite item, and the local customization part of the global template will show the reference in the style appropriate to the language.
There are also several projects that are not directly mentioned in the main Wikidata Strategy document, but are closely related to Wikidata. None of them has a strategic plan, but all of them can benefit from making templates and modules global.
Till now, the Structured Data on Commons (SDC) project has been good at implementing an infrastructure for storing data about media. However, at the moment this data is mostly consumed by people who use Commons and Wikidata, while Wikipedia in different languages has a much larger reader audience. Captions and “depicts” information can be used in Wikipedia, but like all information from Wikidata, it is used in other wikis through templates. (This is comparable to how WikiCite can be the storage engine, but templates are its frontend for the wide reader and edtior audience in Wikipedia and other wikis.)
If the templates that display SDC information are separate in each Wikipedia, only some languages will actually see it. The smaller languages will not enjoy it at all, even though that is where it would be the most useful.
If the templates that display SDC information are global and can be used in multiple wikis without any manual copying, then the information from SDC will be exposed to the whole world of Wikipedia readers. It will be effortlessly embeddable in infoboxes, “Today’s featured picture” on main pages, etc.
Wikidata Bridge is a project to allow users to edit Wikidata’s data directly from the infobox in the client wiki, such as Wikipedia. When this project will be implemented, infobox templates, and perhaps some other templates as well, will have to be updated to start using it.
If templates are not global, each template in each language will have to be updated. Projects in which there are no people who are dedicated to maintaining templates will not be able to use Wikidata Bridge at all.
If templates are global, then each template will have to be updated only once, and all projects and languages will immediately be able to use it with Wikidata Bridge.
The Global templates project is an essential step to fulfilling many strategic goals in various strategic plans that were published by Wikimedia organizations in recent years. This relevance justifies collaboration between the various organizations, teams, and groups to achieve this necessary improvement in the technical infrastructure.