Real names

The following were Evan's notes on how and why to set up real names in MediaWiki. This has been implemented for the 1.3 beta version.

So, the way that MediaWiki 1.2 is set up, we have two fields for identifying a contributor:

  • user name
  • nick

I think (but don't know) that the idea here is that your "user name" is your "real" name, like "Evan Prodromou", and your "nick" is going to be a nickname, handle, or pseudonym, like "Mister Bad". This may come from the tradition on some wikis, like Ward's Wiki, Meatball, others, where using your real name is the norm.

It seems that on Wikipedia, other Wikimedia projects, and Wikitravel (which I'm most interested in), this is not the case. People treat a user name like a Unix, IRC, or other "user account": an abbreviated name or a pseudonym. The "nick" field is generally just used for making fancy signatures; in other cases, it's just used to provide a _second_ pseudonym or abbreviation.

Now, I'm the last person to put down pseudonyms. I think they're a crucial part of Internet culture. But real names can be useful for, say, getting credit as a contributor to an article. Somewhere along the way here we lost the slot for adding a "real name" to a user account.

You can't provide your real name even if you want to. Putting your real name in the user name slot is lost in the noise; I don't know, when you have a user account like "Bob Frapples", whether that's a clever pseudonym or actually your real name. Contributors who want to have their real name recognized now put them on their user pages. But this is kind of difficult for software to determine what a user's real name is.

I'd like to embrace the reality of the situation and have two identity fields, plus a display field:

  • User account name -- a pseudonym or abbrev or whatever
  • Real name -- preferred form of legal name
  • Signature -- fancy formatting for signatures

For these reasons, I'd like to propose the following:

  1. We add a nullable user field "user_real_name".
  2. The login/account creation page has an additional field for "real name", with an explanation that it's optional, and only for attribution, etc.
  3. The preferences page lets you change your real name.
  4. We change the documentation for the user name to note that it's a nickname and doesn't need to be your real name.
  5. We change the documentation for the "nick" field to note its use as a "signature" format.

Automatic attribution tools can use the real name field if it's provided, or the preferred pseudonym ("Wikitravel user Hogwallop") if not.

The user account name would continue to be shown everywhere it is now, and the "nick" field would continue to be used primarily (exclusively?) in the ~~~ signature areas. The main thing is that if contributors want attribution under their real name, but identity in the system under a nickname, they get it.

Lastly, I think an easy way to change your user name is necessary, to make this shift in emphasis easier for those who want to. That's a whole can of worms, there, but I don't think it's impossible to deal with.

Potential for vandalismEdit

The problems with this aren't likely to be seen in the first few days of it going live, and particularly not on wikis that suffer far less vandalism than the larger Wikipedias. The issue of irreversible vandalism has still not been addressed. This feature allows any user to claim the name of someone else and to insert that into the meta data of any article they edit, or have edited in the past. See this example, which claims <dc:creator>Evan Prodromou</dc:creator>

It claims this because I set my real name to be "Evan Prodromou".

No one but a developer can revert this. Evan is listed as the most recent editor of that page and he can't do anything about it.

I could have done this even if I had been blocked from editing, meaning that not only is the vandalism unrevertable, but also the vandal doing this is unblockable.

Until this is made reversible in the same way normal edits are, I think this feature has a high chance of being misused, particularly on the larger wikis where retaliatory vandalism against sysops is common. Angela 20:30, 27 May 2004 (UTC)