[Wikipedia-l] Re: [Wikitech-l] Hyperlink convention

Rowan Collins rowan.collins at gmail.com
Thu Sep 30 22:15:32 UTC 2004

On Thu, 30 Sep 2004 14:29:59 -0700, David Friedland <david at nohat.net> wrote:
> Is
> The -{en-us colors; en-gb colours}- of the U.S. flag are red, white and
> blue.
> going to dissuade users from editing an article any more than the following?

Here's a scenario: Sue the Surfer comes across an article that says
"The colour of the U.S. flag are red, white and blue." Spotting the
"Edit this page" link - and maybe having surfed enough to get the idea
that it really means she can - she clicks. She looks for the text she
wanted to change, and sees "The -{en-us color; en-gb colour}- of the
U.S. flag are red, white and blue." Does she know what to do now? Are
"en-us" and "en-gb" likely to mean anything to her? Will she know that
she needs to put the s onto both spellings? Will she understand that
some people see one and some the other? The answer is likely to be no,
and the result may be that she "leaves it to someone more

Unlike with a lot of the existing features, this example doesn't
feature anything intrinsically complex (maths formulae, formatted
navigation boxes which are displayed on multiple pages, etc); it just
comes in the middle of a sentence. I think that's quite a significant
difference. Note that markup such as ''italics'' and '''bold''',
although somewhat opaque to a new user, doesn't actually interfere
with the text, it just looks like somewhat spilt some punctuation
nearby. Probably the most imposing markup we have *in the middle of
sentences* right now is piped links: "The colours of the [[United
Kingdom|British]] flag are red, white and blue" (there are times it
looks worse than that, I know, but I'm tired). Hopefully, the effect
of those is clear enough that it wouldn't take someone long to just
guess; language switching may not be quite so obvious, because it's
very hard to see in action.

> <div style="border: 1px solid black; background: #ffefcf; padding:
> 7px;">If you were looking for an article on the abbreviation "VFD",
> please see [[VFD]].</div>
> {{Shortcut|[[WP:VFD]]}}
> {{deletiontools}}
> {{VfD_header}}
> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;
> [http://en.wikipedia.org/w/wiki.phtml?title=Wikipedia:Votes_for_deletion&action=edit&section=0
> <small>edit</small>]

That example shows some interesting things: the <div> at the top is
ugly, because it is essentially a hack to get the desired effect,
something we haven't come up with wiki-syntax for. The templates
neatly hide away ugly table code, and some ugly <div>s; they are hard
to edit, because templates are relatively new, and we haven't come up
with a decent interface for them yet - this could indeed be a fairly
major point of confusion. The last line is even hackier than the
first, and is just crying out for some proper wiki-markup to be
invented, because it looks a lot more complex than it really is.

This suggests to me that: extra wiki-markup can be a force for good as
well as evil. We need to use it sparingly, and design it carefully, so
that the confusion caused doesn't outweigh the advantage of the extra

> Rather than trying to live in the fiction that en-us and en-gb are
> equally understandable and mutually compatible, we should admit that
> they are different, that those differences can and empirically do cause
> problems, and that we should create a solution to solve it.

But the question is: is the impact of the proposed solution
proportional to the impact of the problem. My personal feeling is
that, for barely-dialectical variants of English, the answer is no.

I also agree with Angela's point that we need to remember just how
many variants of English there are out there, and consider whether
artificially splitting the English-speaking world into US and UK could
actually *cause* conflict over what the people see who are neither.

Rowan Collins BSc

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