The Three Countries Bridge is located between France, Germany, and Switzerland. Photo by Wladyslaw, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Three Countries Bridge is located between France, Germany, and Switzerland. Photo by Wladyslaw, CC BY-SA 3.0.

My colleagues in the Wikimedia Language team and I, are all heavily multilingual. Between the 6 of us, we can speak and write about 15 different languages from around the world. The language that connects us is English, just as it connects many people from around the world—an indicator of which is the high number of hourly views that is recorded for the English Wikipedia, used by millions across the world as their first stop for information.

At the same time, there are many others who are finding ways to overcome a deep gap that currently exists between the already rich English Wikipedia and the hundreds of other Wikipedias in other languages. These Wikipedias also contain many valuable articles and most importantly, they empower readers from across the world to access information in a language of their choice. Our team is also part of this ongoing endeavour.

In recent times, you may have heard about and seen the Content Translation tool that helps editors create new encyclopedic articles by translating from a Wikipedia article in another language. Links to all these pages, whether created using the Content Translation tool or using the traditional method, are listed in the page’s sidebar.

Known as ‘interlanguage links,’ they are available on all pages. Depending on the number of languages in which the article is written, you may see a short or a long list. Irrespective of the length of the list, this is by far the easiest way to navigate across languages to read more about the topic or to edit the article in another language. With hundreds of languages vying for space on this list, this can become a very long scroll. To solve this problem, a new feature was created that provides a faster way to access the language list: compact language links.

Compact language links replaces the long list with a short list of languages and a button that opens a dialog, which can be quickly searched to find other languages. They have been available on all Wikimedia wikis since they were introduced in 2014 as a beta feature.

Screenshot of Compact Language Links interlanguage list. Screenshot, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Screenshot of the compact language links interlanguage list. Screenshot, CC BY-SA 3.0.

This tool uses several parameters to identify languages that are most likely to be useful to the reader, and subsequently remembers the reader’s choices for future use. Users can search for languages in any language or script.

Starting last month, we have been enabling compact language links across Wikimedia wikis. This is being done in phases to collect feedback as we go. At the moment, Compact Language Links are available for all users of Wikivoyage, Wikiversity, Wikinews, Wikibooks, Wikiquote in all languages, and for all users of Wiktionary and Wikipedia in some languages. More details of the rollout phases are available on Phabricator.

The initial feedback we received was extremely helpful, indicating, for example, some new use cases of interlanguage link navigation that the team was not fully aware of. Some users have commented that the initial language list was not what they expected, so we added documentation that explains how this works. We are also evaluating some changes in the list, like showing links to languages that are related to the topic of the article or to featured articles. The selection of languages initially displayed to users is based on several parameters, like the user’s browser settings or geographic information, but the user’s selections is the primary factor that determines the languages shown in the short list.

Screenshot of compact language links language screen which also shows a featured article badge. Screenshot, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Screenshot of the compact language links language screen, showing a featured article badge. Screenshot, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The other concern we have heard from some users is the request to turn this preference on or off as a global setting. We believe that the solution for this is best served via a global preference, which will require development work beyond the scope of the Language team. A development task has been filed.

We have been monitoring the number of clicks on the interlanguage links to see what impact enabling this feature by default to all readers makes, but overall we haven’t seen any significant change in usage of these links yet—the percent of link clicks out of the number of people who visit the sites in general remains stable. As the feature has been enabled only on projects with relatively low traffic, we expect to see larger impact when we deploy it to the editions of Wikipedia with larger number of articles. We will be documenting of our findings.

In the coming weeks, compact language links is scheduled to be enabled in phases to remaining wikis. We are providing a heads up notice to not cause disruptions. Based on the feedback received from the earlier stages we may make adjustments to the roll-out schedule as needed. Besides notifications on the relevant village pumps, you can follow the upcoming schedule on the Phabricator ticket. We look forward to your comments and feedback on the ticket or on our project talk page.

Runa Bhattacharjee, Language team
Wikimedia Foundation