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

Birgitte SB birgitte_sb at yahoo.com
Mon Dec 25 21:16:26 UTC 2006

--- Brion Vibber <brion at pobox.com> wrote:

> 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.
> Background:
> 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.
> Conflict:
> 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.
> Suggestions:
> 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 
> that.
> 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.

With all respects to GerardM, I believe this would be
generally acceptable to most people.  Making this
feature of displaying numbers a preference which can
be turned off would be a nice gesture towards those
who would rather not see editors in numerical terms.  

> * 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.

I believe this system is too problamatic. The lack of
unique transliterations mentioned above is a major
problem.  Another large difficulty is although most
languages have standards for transliteration in latin
to some degree, the standards of translitaration
between non-latin fonts may be much less developed.  I
do not see how we can offer this reliably across all
Wikimedia wikis.

> * 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:

If I understand this correctly this is like the
transliteration option but allowing people to use any
nick they like rather only a pure transliteration of
the user name.  I see this a basically allowing a
"signature" feature to the machine generated portions
of the wiki.  I think this is the most palatable
solution.  Answering all problems while being the
least offensive to all sensibilities.  Although it
does create some new problems, I believe they could be
dealt with.  If this option incorperated a log of nick
changes I think it would be the perfect solution. 
Places with large amounts of vandalism can enact a
policy prohibiting the changing of nicks after X
number of edits (or some time limit) without an RfC
and this can be enforced through the above mentioned
"nick log".  That would prevent vandals or problem
users from disguising themselves with an font likely
to be unreadable for a username and then frequently
rotating nicks.  A simpler solution might be to have
the "User Contributions" list show the nick used at
the time of the contributions.  This way anyone
suspicious of and editor can quickly check if they
previously used a different nick.

> * 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. :)

This is also workable option, although not my
favorite.  Too many linked names will lead difficulty
in making posistive identifications.  And since they
may result in different username policies on different
wikis, it is not practicle to enforce any limit. 
Although I am sure there is some way of making one a
"master acount" with will always show the
contributions and blocks of all daughters.  Then there
must be an automatic way of switching to the
appropriate daughter account when entering a wiki
forbiding the master account username.  I think making
this workable would more complex than allowing local
nicks, but please correct me if I am wrong about this.
 Also with the possibily of blocks continuing under
this system I think it will leave the most number of
people unhappy out of the three options I find to be

On the other hand I wonder which method you find most
desirable as a developer.  I think it would be best to
start with the system you would most like to implement
and see what objections there still are and how strong
these objections are.  Then only if these objections
cannot be answered should we move on to you next
favorite system and see if that can made acceptable. 
Really most people (although I do recognize there are
exceptions) would be happy with any solution that
provides the benefits of SUL of all Wikimedia editors
while at the same time guaranteeing a readable unique
editor identification for all wikis.

Birgitte SB

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