Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Click the edit tab on my user page and a pile of bizarre symbols will tumble onto your screen. This is Wikipedia markup language. Which is sort of like HTML, the lingo that drives the web, and sort of not.

The language is definitely not easy to master. It takes a lot of mumbo-jumbo to get the screen to display what you want in the way you want it. You have to learn the language by making every conceivable and several inconceivable mistakes. Luckily, you can always bury your mistakes by using the preview button. That button is your best friend - maybe your only friend - on the encyclopedia.

I like to hunt around pages and see the markup behind their format. Some user pages, in particular, are so pretty that nerds like me just have to see the markup driving them. This gives me all sorts of bad ideas for festooning my own user page with silly doodads.

Like userboxes. Those are the cute little things that announce I'm alive and I've got 11,000 edits and I know who Jimbo is. I've stretched some boxes out and squished some down to make a big diamond. As one of the userboxes says, I like diamonds.

Believe it or not, userboxes actually set off controversy on Wikipedia. What doesn't set off controversy on the encyclopedia? One day Jimbo was musing that userboxes were too divisive because people were actually, gasp, expressing opinions in them. Sure enough, some gung-ho admins stared deleting scads of the boxes, which got scads of other editors screaming. Lots of people like to put the little thingies on their user pages.

Eventually some weird solution was reached where userboxes are in some space instead of some other space. Don't ask me the details because I don't know them and I don't want to know them. I just learn what I can from the markup behind the boxes.

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