[Foundation-l] On hard-to-read usernames

Brion Vibber brion at pobox.com
Sun Dec 24 11:00:11 UTC 2006

Certain recent threads have become very deep and it's hard to find the 
needles among the haystacks, so I thought I'd summarize a couple things 
and ask a couple questions.


There is some concern that usernames which are difficult to read due to 
using a different script from the rest of the wiki (such as a Japanese 
name on an English site, or a Russian name on a Thai site) can be 
difficult for administrators, and other wiki contributors, to deal with.

For instance it can be hard to talk about some other user when you can't 
recognize their name.


There has been some fighting over this issue because some admins on 
en.wikipedia.org have taken to outright blocking of non-Latin usernames 
on that site so as not to have to deal with the issue.

There is additional concern that this will become a more frequent issue 
in the future, as the introduction of a unified login system will make 
it easier for people to use their existing usernames they already 
registered on other wikis; thus there is more concern about solving the 
issue in the near future.


Several suggestions were made in previous threads on ways to make it 
easier to recognize and deal with such 'foreign' usernames. In no 
particular order, these include:

* Display a user ID number alongside the name

A possible example history line:

(cur) (last) 10:09, 24 December 2006
   Brion VIBBER (#51 | Talk | contribs | block) (word to the wise)

This is relatively simple, and relatively culturally neutral, if not 
particularly visually attractive.

The ID number could be either the local account number (this is 
displayed in Special:Preferences) or, after unified login (SUL) is 
introduced, a global account number which would be the same on all wikis.

An example of a site that behaves this way is slashdot.org, which 
displays the user ID number next to the username in post headings.

User IDs are possible to use in a few special-page forms that deal with 
accounts in part to work around the occasional 'can't figure out how to 
pass this username around to people' issue. It may be logical to extend 

One thing to consider is that low or high id numbers may indicate 
relative age of an account, which may affect perceived prestige or 
trustworthiness. This might be considered a useful heuristic, or 
alternatively it might be considered anti-egalitarian to display the 
number so widely.

* Display a transliteration of the name into Latin or local script

A possible example history line:

(cur) (last)  10:43, 24 December 2006
   ホイップ (Hoippu | Talk | contribs)

Transliteration is tricky at the best of times. While approximations 
good enough to 'get an idea what you're looking at' might not be 
entirely impossible, there is some concern that they will be perceived 
as culturally biased or incorrect.

More generally, transliterations would not be unique, and so don't 
necessarily serve as well for passing around in links or typing into forms.

* Use easily-changable 'nicknames' more extensively

Possibly combined with a default transliteration mode, this could allow 
people using a common primary username to choose a more 'friendly' nick 
to be displayed and used more widely in the user interface than the 
current nickname option for talk page signatures.

In some ways the simplest implementation of this might be to provide a 
way to link accounts, so the software can visibly verify that they 
belong to the same person, which brings us to:

* Multiple linked usernames

This is for instance how IRC works; on Freenode my usernames "brion", 
"brion_away", "brion_work" etc are linked together so that I have the 
same password, and when I'm logged in as "brion_work" anyone can check 
and confirm that I really am "brion", not just some random guy who says 
he is the same brion.

The upcoming single user login (SUL) system is designed to provide this 
linked-account guarantee for *the same name* on *different wikis*, but 
there can be some benefit to also demonstrating a linkage between 
*different names*.

One example that would be useful is when someone wants to change their 
username just because they didn't like their old one very much. Right 
now they either just make a new account, which doesn't demonstrate the 
linkage provably, or they have to ask a "bureaucrat" to perform an 
administrative account rename for them.

There would I think be some benefit to simply allowing people to create 
a new name for their account, and have the system say to anyone who 
needs to verify it that "yes this is the same user".

In the context of "foreign" usernames, this would make it easy for 
people who are active on some other wiki to choose an additional name to 
work under which is more friendly to local readers.

Possible concerns include a general unease with the idea that people 
might then be _forced_ to choose another name (for instance if their 
regular name gets banned on sight), or annoyance with people who might 
register many linked names and switch among them at whim, for instance 
to fit a mood. :)

Anyway, that's just a few thoughts based on the possible remedies I've 
seen mentioned previously and a couple others I haven't.

Please try to keep the flames off this thread.

Nothing is decided for certain yet, and I hope we can all work together 
and have a conversation like reasonable ladies and gentlemen.


-- brion vibber (brion @ pobox.com)

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