Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Archive 66

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Flag icons - manual of style entry?

I would like to find somewhere in the Manual of Style to discuss flag icons. At the moment, there is the template {{Flagicon}}, and the essay WP:FLAGS, but no real guidance at the MoS. Can anyone suggest an appropriate place to discuss this? If no-one can think of anything better, I suggest Wikipedia:Manual of Style (flag icons). For the moment, I will post links below to as many flag icon related discussions as I can find, and hope others can add to the list. There seems to be a growing divide over how extensively flag icons should be used, if at all, and how to use them. I think some wide-ranging actual discussion and consensus on this is needed (other than the default "it is already in widespread use") before it gets out of control. Limits on this are needed, because people obviously disagree over how and where to use flag icons. Carcharoth 13:47, 15 January 2007 (UTC)

Discussion below the lists. Wandalstouring 15:09, 15 January 2007 (UTC)

Links to other discussions

Please add more links as you find them, and add links back to here to centralise discussion. Please also say where this discussion has been advertised.

Other places this discussion is linked from


  • Why are flag icons used?
  • Where should they be used?
  • When shouldn't they be used?
  • How widely are they used?
  • Are they overused?


  • Replacing country names in infoboxes to save space (eg. narrow infoboxes)
  • Next to a linked country name as a visual decoration in an infobox (eg. biography infoboxes)
  • Labelling country-specific templates (eg. election template for a country)
  • To label items in a list of country-related items (eg. list of quotes from around the world)
  • To conform to the style used in sources (eg. sports coverage)

Current discussion

Please use this area to discuss the above issues concerning flag icons. Carcharoth 15:01, 15 January 2007 (UTC)

My opinion: Don't use them. If you make them big enough to see clearly anything that is more than a bicolore/tricolore it totally disturbs the layout. If you make it small enough not to distirb the layout it turns out to be simply a wash of colors. Wandalstouring 15:02, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
I agree with that. It seems to me that the overuse of flags in articles and especially in infoboxes:
- Adds nothing whatsoever to the information content of the page
- Creates a whole new area for edit warring (eg were the band Simple Minds a Scottish or a British group?)
- Is difficult for certain users (eg the visually impaired or the colour blind)
- Contributes to the dumbing-down of Wikipedia (is there an implication that our readers are too stupid to understand the word Angola, and need the extra support of seeing the flag Angola to "get" the meaning?)
- Contributes to the over-valuing of where a particular artist (for example) came from. Many fields (popular music being one) are essentially international ones. Adding flags to the articles of say Olympic athletes or international football teams is maybe more acceptable, if they actually played "under" that flag.
- Specifically goes against the spirit of Wikipedia:Images, namely "Images should be large enough to reveal relevant detail without overwhelming the surrounding article text." and "Images must be relevant to the article they appear in and be of sufficient notability (relative to the article's topic)."
- To my eye, looks awful. This is subjective I grant you; the only argument I have so far heard from the pro-flag people is that it "looks nice", but it's important to realise that not everyone thinks it "looks nice". --Guinnog 15:21, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
Regarding the "images" argument - I would like to forestall the counter-argument that these 'images' are icons used as recognition aids, like the icons used in computer programs, such as the MSWord icon, an icon for an e-mail program, and so on. But icons, while appropriate (within reason) in places like Wikipedia:Help (sorry, that page has been tidied up now, but see this old version for an example of what overuse of icons can lead to), can be distracting in articles, which need to intelligently combine visual and textual information, rather than overdo the visual hooks. In addition, while some flags make good icons (tricolor, for example), some do not. The only place where I would agree to flags is in long lists of items related to different countries. Carcharoth 15:50, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
I agree. The only time I can see flag icons being useful is in long lists where you want to find info relating to a particular country quickly. It seems the biggest problem area for flag icons are in infoboxes. In the case of infoboxes, flag icons are used in two different ways: Next to the name of a country, in which case they are completely redundant; and in place of a country name, in which case they interfere with the accessibility, portability, and readability of the article. Personally I think flag icons should never be used in infoboxes, but I may be in the minority on that. Kaldari 16:07, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
My goodness, it certainly had a lot of icons! At least custom-made icons are designed to be meaningful though, and can be edited if they are not. Many national flags do not work well as icons; as well as the example given in WP:FLAG (Australia and New Zealand), there are many others like Netherlands and Luxembourg, Belgium and Chad, Guinea and Mali, and Republic of Ireland and Ivory Coast. If you are interested in flags (as I am), there are plenty of other ways to promote your interest than by adding them indiscriminately to articles where they cause trouble without any real gain. --Guinnog 16:10, 15 January 2007 (UTC)

Regarding how widespread the use is, I've used "what links here" to discover that there are less than 200 uses of {{flag}}, but between 35,000 and 40,000 uses of {{flagicon}}. This includes uses outside article namespace, but excludes use more than once on the same page. Compare this to the number of living people articles at the top of Special:Mostlinkedcategories - 155,125. Obviously the use of flag icons is spreading but is not irreversible. The point seems to be though that people will add flag icons if they are given the chance to. So what, if anything, can be done? Carcharoth 16:34, 15 January 2007 (UTC)

Some examples of use: Mercedes Cup (labelling entries in a table); World of Warcraft (release date in an infobox); Jimmy Johnstone (Scotland football team template at bottom of article); Norwegian parliamentary election, 1997 (Norweigian elections template at bottom of article); America's Next Top Model (infobox and countries released in in table in article); Anastacia (album) (countries released in). Carcharoth 16:49, 15 January 2007 (UTC)

Well, I think we can start off by agreeing and establishing a consensus here that it is a bad thing to do, perhaps excepting articles with some justification for being beflagged, such as sports, war and history articles, although I think that any exceptions would need to come from a project-wide consensus. If in a week there is no serious argument advanced for keeping the generality of flag icons in info boxes, we can start removing them and reference this discussion. --Guinnog 16:50, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
I think Norwegian parliamentary election, 1997 looks ok. World of Warcraft looks bad. But I doubt this can be generalized into some broad consensus here, being sufficient for a flag removal spree on the wiki. --Ligulem 17:24, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
I certainly think I would like to get rid of the ones on popular music articles, as this is an international enterprise and inherently prone to edit-warring as a band does not have a passport or (other than in Eurovision!) represent a particlular country. I haven't heard any good arguments advanced for having them there. --Guinnog 17:33, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
Well first of all, going around these articles and removing flag icons based on an open discussion and an essay (not a policy or guideline) like WP:FLAG certainly is not all that productive. I have to agree with Carcharoth's concept of "recognition aids", as it makes sense to combine textual and visual stimuli in places where people would like to obtain information fast (like infoboxes). Hence I see no harm, but benefit in adding flag icons to certain fields (i.e. origin or birthplace) in boxes such as those for musical artists. Cyrus XIII 21:09, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
The point of this discussion is to come up with a guideline so that the "it's not a guideline" argument won't work. The point is that flag icons should never be used on their own in the main text of an article, because that relies on people knowing what the flags mean. The same argument holds for infoboxes. We can't expect readers who are reading an infobox to mouse-over a flag icon to find out which country the flag stands for. We should always provide the information in written form. But then the flag icons become little more than visual decoration, and as such their use should be carefully guided to prevent people trying to make infoboxes "look pretty". We should be adding information and carefully arranging it, not putting redundant flags next to every use of a country name in an infobox. The other point is that if no consensus is reached here, the issue reverts back to an article-by-article basis, and editors actively working on an article will be justified in reverting editors who pass by just to add flag icons because they happen to like these flag icons. Carcharoth 01:08, 16 January 2007 (UTC)
You're referring to flag icons "used on their own". What about flag icons with the name of the country next to them? (SEWilco 06:20, 19 January 2007 (UTC))
If you've identified some articles with interesting usage, perhaps you should invite participants in those articles to come here and participate in this discussion which may affect their usage. (SEWilco 06:27, 19 January 2007 (UTC))
Ligulem, would you be interested in working on some general principles for a MoS guideline? In some areas where I and others have tried to point out that there is no consensus for widespread, indiscriminate use, I've been met with the (reasonable) rebuttal, "but WP:FLAGS is just an essay". A MoS guideline can be used on the basis of "Wikipedia articles should heed these guidelines" to make the argument for a particular removal stronger. I don't want to engage in an indiscriminate flag removal spree, but I do want people to stop using weak arguments (and some like these have actually been used in discussions I've been involved in) like: "they are widely used already, so why not use them here" and "but they look nice" and so on. Carcharoth 17:35, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
I'm not that much interested in influencing whether these flags should be used or not and for what and when. I've lately started doing some under the hood work in looking for a simpler system for implementing the current flag templates. See Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Flag Template#Ideas for reworking and User:Ligulem/work/flag templates rework for the technicalities. Just to explain why I happen to post here.... Maybe I've already looked too often at all these flags and thus have started getting used to them :-). --Ligulem 17:52, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
Appropriate use of flag icons in some instances
I agree with many of the arguments posed here against excessive use of flag icons, but I am compelled to point out one large class of instances in which they are not only appropriate, but perhaps expected. That is, parts of Wikipedia that deal with international sporting events (of which the Olympic Games is the biggest example) regularly use flag icons along side athlete or team names. The source material for this information often uses a similar style, so it is not unexpected to see a similar treatment on Wikipedia. For example, you'll see consistent and regular use of flag icons in places such as the International Olympic Committee medal database (perform any search to see how the results are formatted), Yahoo! results from the 2004 and 2006 Olympics, leader boards of the The Open Championship and other golf tournaments seen on television, results of major tennis tournaments, Formula One, and so on.
Therefore, if there is a MOS section on flag icon usage, I would like to see something said about how flags are used in source material related to the Wikipedia usage in question. It's unreasonable for Wikipedia to discourage something that would naturally be used by other media for the same context. Andrwsc 17:54, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for those links. I agree that sports-related articles should continue to use flags, but we actually need to improve the way we (Wikipedia) handle things. Both the Yahoo and Olympics lists have the standard three-letter code next to the flag. This ensures each flag and code takes up the same amount of room, solving the problem of long country names messing up layouts. But the country code is still there (and clickable), so people don't have to know what the flag means (the flag is jsut decoration). Look at Mercedes Cup - you have to hover over the flags to find out the name. The countries should still be mentioned in the table alongside the flag, so the country name can be read by the reader (and screen readers). I presume the redesign of the flag icon template will be incorporating a display of the three-letter codes, retaining the mouse-over full-name, and allowing screen-readers to read the name of the country? If this is so, then something like "either the name, or the three-letter code, must be included when using a flag icon" would be a start at how the MoS would treat this. Carcharoth 18:32, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
One problem is that there are multiple standards for three letter codes. For Olympic usage, we have the list of IOC country codes. In Wikipedia, the {{flagIOC}} template (and a few derivatives) are being used to consistently use those codes for Olympic result articles. For example, look at Weightlifting at the 2004 Summer Olympics - Men's +105 kg. The country code is not only present after each athlete's name, but it is wikilinked to the appropriate "Nation at the 2004 Summer Olympics" article, which is far more useful than a wikilink to the nation's main article. For football (soccer), you have the list of FIFA country codes, which are sometimes different. For other sports, there are no obvious codes. The international standard might be the ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 code, but people often get them confused (for example, Algeria is DZA in ISO 3166, but ALG on the IOC and FIFA lists).
As for the redesign, the intent (as I understand it) is to provide a more efficient, maintainable implementation, but it is still up to individual editors whether they use {{flagicon}} to render just the flag by itself or use {{flagcountry}} to render both the flag and nation name, or use {{flag}} to render the flag with the wikilinked ISO three letter code. Andrwsc 19:12, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
Template-technical side note: speaking of User:Ligulem/work/flag templates rework: That changes nothing on the usage or the display compared to the current flag template system. Consider it as an implementation detail which doesn't affect this discussion here. However, the documentation at template:country2 or the testcalls shown on a page like template:country data France might be useful to understand what the current calls of the flag templates are. IOC flags have been separated out into Template:FlagIOC, which won't be changed. --Ligulem 22:19, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
I agree that flag icons are more acceptable in the sporting articles, as in most sports there is international competition and so every player has a self-declared sporting nationality (not always the same as their legal nationality of course). Every notable sports team plays under a national association for that sport, and so also has a clear national affiliation. One of my main problems is the degree of original research involved in flagging the band Queen as English (not British) when the late singer was from Zanzibar; The Clash (Turkish-born singer) and Stranglers also pose problems. U2 is the extreme example; clearly the article is correct when it calls them an Irish band, but when two of the four members were born in England, I thought the flag looked rather odd. Flags are best kept for enterprises and activities that were (verifiably) performed "under" that flag. --Guinnog 22:09, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
I find it quite puzzling how someone can take offense at or disagree with the addition of a flag icon while in all these examples a nationality is clearly given in textual form, right in the first sentence of each article. If this information is inaccurate it should be altered, indiscriminatingly of the medium which transports it. At this point however, we are leaving a style discussion and enter one about content. Cyrus XIII 22:39, 15 January 2007 (UTC)
The point is that a sentence or two in an article can be carefully written and referenced to get the right points across. A flag icon is much more blunt and can't be qualified in the same way as a sentence can. Also, look in any reputable biograpical encyclopedia, or biographical dictionary, and you won't see small flags dotted over the text. Even if they could do this, they wouldn't, because the people writing those books know that these are subtle issues that need to be written about, not reduced to a visual soundbite in an infobox. Carcharoth 01:13, 16 January 2007 (UTC)
Stating that a person was born in a specific land is not the same thing as implying nationality and patriotism with a flag. —Centrxtalk • 01:29, 16 January 2007 (UTC)

(deindent) My quibble is partly with who has chosen what nationality a subject is. I for example am Scottish Scotland, British United Kingdom and European Europe. If it was up to me, and I were notable enough to have an article here, I'd probably prefer to identify as European. In the absence of any such self-identification, to assign a nationality to a band is pure OR, whether it is in text or a flag. The flags though, give a spurious air of authority. I hope you see what I mean. --Guinnog 23:46, 15 January 2007 (UTC)

I agree with Guinnog's comments; it's often OR or POV when nationality is "stated". I particularly notice edit wars regarding the nationality of people; some editors prefer the (broadly English?) concept that you have the nationality of the place you were born; others go with the (Germanic?) notion that it's about blood, and therefore the nationality of your parents, which I find inherently more complicated. There's also the concept of changing nationality by emigrating and changing passports... the bottom line is that these claims are often very poorly referenced and just OR, and the references conflict hopelessly anyway so the "fact" needs to be qualified. And to get back to the point, this minefield is not helped by the use of flags; flags do indeed give much less scope to qualify the claim, and give the casual reader "too much too soon". – Kieran T (talk) 01:35, 16 January 2007 (UTC)
There are also several other practical problems like using the current flag for a country when the date of birth was in fact during a time when there was a different flag. —Centrxtalk • 21:52, 16 January 2007 (UTC)
One problem I have is that even where it might be deemed suitable, the flag icons can make a page extremely slow to download. For instance, the addition of flag icons to List of air forces adds some eye enhancement IMO to what could be quite a long list of tables (that replaced a truly eye-tiring flat list), yet when combined with the roundels and the table codes, the page as a whole takes rather a long time to load. While spreading the alphabetical tables oto several pages would help speed it up, it's basically the multitude of images that bogs everything down. Askari Mark (Talk) 00:32, 17 January 2007 (UTC)
Peripherally related to this discussion, as an instance of how divisive this issue can be; there was a bout of edit-warring today at Northern Ireland over the proper flag to use. This, though, is a rare example of an article that needs a flag but a sizable minority would like to remove it for (understandable) political reasons.
"Political reasons" really understates and makes light of an important issue. The argument is that Northern Ireland doesn't currently have an official flag, as a result of devolution being suspended. The continued use of the Ulster Banner (crowned red hand overlaid on the flag of England) is a relic of the one-party rule that pre-dates even the (suspended) joint SDLP administration (and I can't see a DUP/SF administration resolving it). There is even a Flags and Emblems Act making certain usuages illegal or mandatory, so it is a real quagmire. See also Northern Ireland flags issue. Certainly, the current NI icon, widely used around wiki sports articles, has no official status and indeed any use of it is by definition POV. Despite that, removing it would provoke a massive edit war of course, but nothing should be done to make the situation worse. --Red King 01:11, 3 February 2007 (UTC)

The sporting world

Also by sheer chance I ran into another interesting edit war today, over which flag should be displayed beside the name of Martin O'Neill on the Celtic F.C. page. It did bring an interesting resolution though; see Talk:Celtic F.C.#Nationality of MON where User:Captkrob points out that according to Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Football/Clubs, their consensus is to use flags for players (and former players) in the order of precedence:

  • Flag of national team played for
  • Flag of citizenship
  • Flag of place of birth (if no national caps and no information of citizenship)

This seems fair and reasonable to me, and perhaps that could be an honourable exception to the flags section, where a project has established consistent (and verifiable) rules for the use of flags. --Guinnog 03:40, 17 January 2007 (UTC)

Unrelated: What does the colon inside the wikilink do? - Dudesleeper 04:07, 17 January 2007 (UTC)
Stops this page from showing up in the 'what links here' of the article being linked to. --Guinnog 04:11, 17 January 2007 (UTC)
Oh. I never knew that, though I use 'what links here' extensively, and have complained many times about how the 'what links here' lists are polluted with inappropriate links. Really, though, sorting by namespace helps there. Would also help if it had the first and last date the link was added, so that list could be sorted chronologically as well. That latter feature request is probably a pipe-dream though. Carcharoth 11:58, 17 January 2007 (UTC)
Getting back on topic, I think sporting articles should use flag icons, but like anywhere, need to be careful not to overuse them. They should, really, limit their use to sporting flag icons, and any necessary national flag icons. Other flags (eg. city flags) would be unecessary. Carcharoth 12:02, 17 January 2007 (UTC)
Yes. As I said above, flags should ideally be restricted to a flag that a player (or club team) has played "under". It's much more accceptable to place Scotland beside the entry of Richard Gough; although he wasn't born in Scotland, he played for the national team. I don't mind stretching a point and accepting the flag beside the name of a player who could potentially play for a national team. If this is unclear then flag of citizenship or flag of country of birth could be used. Clubs are also fairly straightforward as every club is affiliated to a national association. Individual cases like Cardiff City (a Welsh club playing in the English league), Berwick Rangers (an English team playing in the Scottish league) and AS Monaco FC (a Monegasque team playing in the French league) shouldn't cause too much trouble. After all, in all these cases, the nationality is verifiable, a situation quite unlike that of bands like U2 or The Clash, for whom their "nationality" may be up for endless debate and can in most cases never be verified.--Guinnog 14:15, 17 January 2007 (UTC)

Icons in text

The usage of icons within text has been mentioned several times, but it is not clear how many comments refer to that situation or to other usage of icons. Perhaps the types of usage being discussed should be clarified. I've rarely seen icons alone in text, although some descriptions have included the name of a country with a flag icon attached. More common seems to be tables or lists which include icons, icons with abbreviations, or icons with country names. (SEWilco 06:33, 19 January 2007 (UTC))

Flag icons are mostly used in lists, to decorate template headers, or in infoboxes (which are a sort of list). Hardly ever used in text (except in bullet-pointed lists of quotations from different countries, which I consider to be lists). If a flag icon is used in written prose, like this England it should be removed on sight, IMO. Carcharoth 00:20, 22 January 2007 (UTC)
I agree. Never in text, never instead of a written description of nationality. So far the only valid use I can see is in lists and tables, and only where the flag is uncontroversial. See the discussion of sporting articles above; and in contrast, see the discusssion on Talk:U2. --Guinnog 11:33, 22 January 2007 (UTC)