A proposal to convert a number of inbound links to Wikipedia into multilingual lists of articles was floated last week. However, the idea was rejected because of a conflict with the obligation to maintain the integrity of these links.
The discussion began with an inquiry last Friday on the wikipedia-l mailing list about http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl, a URL that redirects to the Chernobyl article on the English Wikipedia. Gerrit Holl argued that this was incorrect; as an alternative, he suggested that such URLs could take visitors to a page listing all articles named "Chernobyl" in any Wikipedia language.
The proposal follows a successful earlier movement to have www.wikipedia.org converted from a redirect to the Main Page of the English Wikipedia into a multilingual portal page. This change was finally implemented in January 2005 (see archived story). The portal has since been designed to feature a Wikipedia logo, the largest Wikipedias being grouped around it, plus a multilingual search function, and links to all Wikipedia languages with at least 100 articles.
Lars Aronsson, one of the earliest Wikipedia editors, explained the historical reasons for the situation. When originally created in 2001, Wikipedia was entirely in English and located at the www.wikipedia.com domain. As other languages were added, it was eventually settled that they would use two-letter languages codes based on an ISO 639 standard (since then, some three-letter codes have also been used, along with other designations for languages that have no code). However, the English Wikipedia remained at www.wikipedia.com.
A proposal was made in March 2002 to move the English Wikipedia to a language code as well. However, the idea met some resistance and was not finally implemented until October, by which time Wikipedia had also moved from a .com top-level domain to a .org. At the time, Jimmy Wales indicated that he was agreeable to changing the home page, suggesting the possibility of determining language based on browser preferences; however, he ruled out changing sublinks from www.wikipedia.com for articles on the grounds that "we must not break links that already exist on the web".
Wikimedia CTO Brion Vibber added that he had personally promised to maintain link compatibility when the change was made. He pointed out, "The only reason there exists a "www.wikipedia" is that English Wikipedia used to be there, because it was once the only one." Vibber also questioned why anyone would want to invent new URLs to go to that domain. Based on the existing agreement, Trustee Anthere also gave her view that the current system should not be changed.