Wikipedia:Proposed policy on userboxes

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This page is to discuss a proposed policy on userboxes commonly seen on Wikipedians' user pages; what should be allowed, encouraged, or discouraged in userboxes. It may also touch on whether certain types ought to be speedily deleted. A debate began at the Village pump policy page, and some content from that debate was used to start this proposal.

Please see the proposals page for a substantial amount of older debate which saw a number of proposals listed and voted/commented on by Wikipedians. In light of the fact that this debate was heading toward a confusing stale mate, Harro5 has re-set the page with a bit of a format to encourage initial discussion rather than a premature straw poll.

A workable userbox or user template policy[edit]

Copied from User:Pathoschild/Projects/Userboxes/Policy, which was based on an earlier proposal User:Doc glasgow/workshop


A. Foundational to Wikipedia is the neutral point of view. Jimbo has said that 'here we are Wikipedians, out there we are advocates'. Although many editors would prefer that expression of POV be discouraged on user pages, many others believe that bias is better declared. There being no consensus on the matter, there should be no prohibition; prohibition is, in any case, unenforceable. Users should be permitted relatively free expression on their userpage without censorship or other hindrance. They may, if they so desire, declare their point of view, and may arrange the space as they wish (including the use of any userboxes). These should be limited only by the usual policies relevant to user pages, those regarding no personal attacks, civility, copyright, legal considerations, not bringing wikipedia into disrepute, no deliberate trolling, and the caveat that wikipedia is not a free webhost.

B. Wikipedia is a neutral encyclopaedia, not a vehicle for political advocacy. As such, the main template and category space and the server resources involved in transclusion should only be used to further the encyclopaedia. User templates should only exist in so far as they assist in that aim.

Userbox Policy:

  1. Userboxes should generally be permitted as free expression (subject to the caveats in A).
  2. Templates designed for use in userspace should only be permitted where they are of benefit to creating an encyclopaedia, and are general enough in scope that they are likely to be used by a reasonable number of editors. Userboxes existing in the template space should be those useful to declare a relevant skill, speciality, editing interest, or membership of a valid wiki-grouping. Advocacy or POV declaring are specifically excluded.
    • This provision should be interpreted fairly liberally, and would likely include templates related to language, expertise, geographic or national focus, wiki-status (admin etc.), project membership, editing interests, and wiki-tasking (mediator etc.).
    • 'Editing interest' would allow templates that specify an interest in US politics, for example, but not membership or support of a particular party. For example, 'user Christian theology' but not 'user Christian believer', 'user abortion articles' but not 'pro-life', or 'scientology article editor' but not pro- or anti-.
    • All userboxes that define a point of view, belief, extra-wiki affiliation, user-specific subject, or joke would be allowed unimpeded in the user namespace. Note that a user subpage that is transcluded without substitution by multiple users is considered a 'template'. This would be subject to the caveats of principles A and B. These userboxes also should not contain images.
  3. Use of categories should be restricted to encyclopedic content and certainly shouldn't be used in userboxes.


  1. Speedy deletions of userbox templates should cease, except as follows:
    1. Userboxes that are blatant infringements of applicable Wikipedia policy, such as No personal attacks, should be speedy deleted.
    2. Existing templates which do not meet the above criteria should not be immediately deleted. These should be substituted onto user pages, or users notified to substitute them onto their user pages. These templates should be deleted after a period of four weeks grace or once all instances have been substituted.
    3. Templates created after this policy comes into effect which do not meet the criteria may be speedily deleted. Any template that might debatably meet the criteria must be sent to TfD, where the sole criterion would be 'utility to the project'.
    4. Userboxes that don't comply with template requirements may be copied onto some special pages, from which they may be cut and paste (hard-coded) onto userpages as desired.


(taken from Lar's and TantalumTelluride's opening version of this debate, and edited.)

Userboxes started out as informative supplements designed to fit snugly into the Babel templates. Then the userboxes themselves were turned into templates, and the userbox templates began including category tags to automatically categorize users under Category:Wikipedians. And then, of course, a number of Wikipedians began creating humorous parody userboxes (such as {{User:Aeon1006/Userboxes/User Geek}} and {{User n00b}}). They were accordingly assigned templates; and they, too, attempted to categorize users. Anyway, the categories and templates eventually found their way to the deletion process. Most were kept, some were deleted, some were moved, some were redirected. The resulting mess led to the recent creation of WikiProject Userboxes, which has done a remarkable job in cleaning up and standardizing the userbox templates and categories. Unfortunately, userbox-related templates, categories, and redirects, etc. were still nominated for deletion. Recently, Kelly Martin speedily deleted dozens of userboxes she thought were incivil, tended to categorize Wikipedians by ideology, contained copyright infringements, or for other reasons (Discussion and relevant links can be found at Wikipedia:Requests for comment/Kelly Martin.)

Issues regarding userboxes and userpage templates[edit]

  • Are fair use/copyrighted images legally allowed in userboxes?
  • Do userboxes for religions and personal opinions encourage factionalisation?
  • Do userboxes facilitate poll-stacking operations?
  • Userboxes have been created with embedded categories in the previously-existing Category:Wikipedians.
  • Many userboxes cover topics/views/interests unrelated to the creating of an encyclopedia.
  • Should Wikipedia allow templates designed for the user namespace which support particular points of view?
  • Should we allow templates that serve no purpose other than adding humor to user pages?
  • What types of templates and what types of categories should be allowed?
  • What is different from grouping Wikipedians by category according to point of view/interests/beliefs and grouping Wikipedians by WikiProjects according to point of view/interests/beliefs?
  • Would forbidding the expression of a point of view in templates also affect the already existing Wikipedia:User page policy and the current incarnation of WP:NPOV, which allows Wikipedians to have personal views on their user pages?

Policies relevant to the userbox debate[edit]

  • User pages - userboxes may contain content not acceptable for userpages, for instance:
    • Fair use - the status of images in userboxes
    • Civility - userboxes may contain offensive or incivil content
    • What Wikipedia is not:
      • a battleground where users need to organize into factions,
      • a soapbox for pushing a point of view (even on a user page),
      • or a free host or webspace provider like LiveJournal, where you can give your life history, all your opinions, and your associations. "Wikipedians have their own personal pages, but they are used for information relevant to working on the encyclopedia."
    • Personal attacks - some userboxes may amount to personal attacks
    • User pages - some userboxes may be covered by the following:
      • "Particularly, community-building activities that are not strictly "on topic," may be allowed, especially when initiated by committed Wikipedians with good edit histories. At their best, such activities help us to build the community, and this helps to build the encyclopedia."
    • Neutrality - many userboxes may arguably technically need to comply with WP:NPOV even though NPOV may not apply in userspace, because they use Templates Templatespace may not be considered by all to be userspace, and thus NPOV may apply to boxes even if not to the pages themselves. This is not totally clear, it's an edge case. (this has to do with technical compliance)
        • There is no technical compliance issue. The neutrality policy is explicit that it applies to "all articles". User pages aren't articles. Jamesday 05:47, 22 February 2006 (UTC)[reply]
      • Since template-space is internal, just a technical tool, not the frontend presented to the reader (which is articlespace), can NPOV reasonably said to apply to it as a whole? Don't articlespace policies only apply to templates used in articlespace?
        • Wouldn't binding templates to articlespace rules lead to Wikipedia-internal templates being prohibited under WP:SELF?
          • As it says, the self-reference preference applies only "within Wikipedia articles". User pages aren't articles. Jamesday 05:47, 22 February 2006 (UTC)[reply]
            • All Wikipedia articles must be written from a neutral point of view, representing views fairly and without bias. This includes reader-facing templates, categories and portals. So it's arguable that it does apply to userbox templatesCynical 06:41, 22 February 2006 (UTC)[reply]
    • Neutrality and Consensus - userboxes can easily be used by Wikipedians to contact a large number of like-minded people, damaging the neutrality policy by subverting normal consensus-based decision-making (one example: 9 out of 11 keep voters in the Catholic Alliance deletion debate did so after being contacted by the page's creator who found them through a category of "Catholic Wikipedians": Users were added to this category by the addition of the userbox declaring them to be Catholic). (this has to do with usage). See discussion page for two more recent examples of abuse.
      • (Note: During the Catholic Alliance AfD several delete votes were registered by Catholic Wikipedians who were contacted by the same process)
      • Is this such a bad thing? The consensus of the community is supposed to be what's respected, but obviously only the consensus of those who show up to weigh in can actually be considered. Therefore, in order to get the truest possible view of community opinion, isn't it best that all sides in a debate try to recruit Wikipedians who would otherwise not be aware of the debate? Does the fact that a Wikipedian was recruited instead of independently finding a debate make their opinion less valid?
        • Sometimes it will be hard to distinguish vote-stacking operations from sincere efforts to broaden a discussion, but the key difference is whether the get out the vote effort is intended to find put more viewpoints in the discussion, or whether it is intended to marginalise/drown out opposing viewpoints
      • Is this such a new thing? People have been recruited for votes on many issues long before the user boxes became common, and banning user boxes is unlikely to prevent it in the future. In particular, people may associate with notable POVs or organizations merely by writing an opinions paragraph/page with wikilinks to wikipedia articles about those POVs or organizations.
  • Categorization - Many userboxes are used in the same manner that categories are used.

Concerns about regulating userboxes[edit]

Note: this is a place for listing brief (i.e. one-line) concerns about regulating userboxes.

  • Userboxes help editors understand each others' points of view, helping to create a more neutral encyclopedia.
  • There is dispute among Wikipedians as to how far to take the ideals of NPOV
    • User pages have been considered exempt from the NPOV policy since the early days of WP
    • Some argue that overt advocacy on issues unrelated to WP itself is unfaithful to the spirit of WP and NPOV
    • Some argue that since people do have POVs, allowing an outlet for expression helps reach Consensus
  • We are all human and userboxes can foster collegiality which can reduce friction and make work more pleasant.
  • Deleting userboxes is harmful to the community spirit, and the deletionism associated with it has created much conflict.
  • People will always find other Wikipedians with similar beliefs or interests and form groups of friends in their time on Wikipedia anyway, regulation only slows the process and gives less of an advantage to newer users who haven't been around long enough to develop a network of Wiki-friends.
  • Assume good faith: Assuming a userbox will be used to organise evil cabals is assuming bad faith towards all userbox users. Problems need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
  • Categories help find other users knowledgeable or interested about the same subjects to help improve articles that might otherwise be neglected. It's not so different from an informal, decentralised WikiProject or from users in fact stating their interests on their user page without using a "user box" for it as has been going on for a long time, or user categories without matching userboxes such as those in Category:Wikipedians.
  • Avoid m:instruction creep.
  • Regulations like "userboxes shouldn't violate copyright" are redundant with existing regulations and thus a complete waste of time.
    • Many people have a poor understanding of where fair use applies, so they need clearer guidance.
  • Userboxes are a trivial fad not worth our time messing with.
  • Userboxes are fun. Fun things help the community. WP needs a strong community.
  • Writing up and enforcing regulations takes time away from productive work.
  • Userboxes are a (mostly) harmless way to practice template writing techniques.
  • User categories are useful for legitimate purposes, such as finding potential members of a new WikiProject.
  • Rallying votes is not such a bad thing; Wikipedia is not a democracy, but it is still ruled in large part by the users, and users should be made aware of issues of interest so that their interests can be represented.
  • "Redundant" and "pointless" are subjective, POV value judgments, and not reasons to delete userboxes (just reasons not to keep them).
  • It is not the use of userboxes which has "split the community apart" (see below) as much as the events surrounding the userbox controversy, and the manner in which it arose.
  • Regulating userboxes beyond existing policy might discourage some users from providing donations to support the project.
  • Even the discussion about the regulation of userboxes tempts users to have templates deleted which are perfectly legitimate and established, without even bothering about giving any reason other than "I don't like it". This is bringing useful projects like Babel to a halt or is at least severely impeding its progress.
  • If someone wishes to label themselves as holding some vehement or obnoxious opinion, this may be useful; it tells me something that would take a long and unpleasant experience of co-editing to learn otherwise, and I can discount their other opinions accordingly. (Labelling someone else "a hater of X" is defamatory vandalism.)
  • Userbox templates may save computer storage space. One userbox template takes up less space than the same userbox copied to many userpages.
  • People tell me "if you have an opinion, put it on your user page, not in a template." But what if I want to declare my opinion in an easy-to-search format, so that others can audit my work for POV? I need a template for that.
  • What people do on their user pages should be left alone. While Wikipedia is not a democracy, it should at least have some freedoms on user pages.

Concerns about not regulating userboxes[edit]

Note: this is a place for listing brief (i.e. one-line) concerns about not regulating userboxes.

  • Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. The User: space, while not intended to be encyclopedic, is primarily intended to facilitate the maintenance of the encyclopedia.
    • Excessive userboxes may be seen as a wasteful use of Wikipedia's computing power, and of the financial donations that people have contributed, as well as the time of editors and admins.
      • Moreover, templates with images are notorious drains on server power, moreso than other types of content.
    • There is less justification for content in User: space that exposes Wikipedia to potential legal (e.g. copyright or libel) concerns than content in the main namespace
  • If there are clear, codified guidelines that have consensual support, including guidelines for what boxes are OK and when boxes that are out of compliance can be speedied, there will hopefully be less recurrence of controversy such as the controversy around the recent speedy deletions of boxes by 2 different admins.
  • Userbox numbers are rising very rapidly. Numbers nearly doubled in December--some 1500 new userboxes--and the present growth rate of 250 over the first three days of January suggest an exponential growth curve. If we don't recognise problems early it may be too late to deal with them later.
    • There are a virtually unlimited number of potential userboxes, expressing every possible variation of human experience. There exists no standard for "userbox notability" to prevent even the most trivial and over-specific userboxes from being made.
    • Since there are an unlimited number of potential userboxes as previously noted, with redundacy included and slight variations based on miniscule details, as userboxes grow exponentially a situation could present itself where userboxes lose their categorical functions which are a main argument for their existence.
  • Far from building a community, the userbox controversy has split it apart.
  • Too much respect for userbox free speech can lead to acceptance of uncivil or personal-attacking userboxes (e.g. {{User GWB}}, {{User 2006 New Year Day Participate}}.
  • What is needed is a clear set of guidelines for deleting userboxes similar to the guidelines used for deleting pages.

Concerns about regulating POV on userpages[edit]

Note: this is a place for listing brief (i.e. one-line) concerns about regulating POV on userpages.

  • WP:NPOV does not apply in userspace: Userspace is not article space and users do have points of view even if articles should not. Allowing userpages to have POV does not contravene the NPOV policy.
  • Expressing one's point of view is not necessarily the same as promoting it.
  • Knowing an editor's tendency towards bias might help someone looking at their edits to determine POV.
  • If users are allowed to express their POV on their user page they might not feel the need to vandalise article pages.
  • As a user´s POV is part of her/his identity, and users are allowed to write information about themselves on their userpage, POV should be allowed there too.
  • Making policy because we think POV userpages might lead to NPOV edits in real articles or deliberate voting blocs is in violation of the spirit of WP:AGF.
  • Preventing users from identifying affiliations which they have anyway is totally contrary to the way such things are normally handled. Customarily, it is mandatory to declare ones interests before entering a debate.
  • Having a POV userbox is not an issue, but being automatically added to a POV category when you use a template is a) subliminal and b) not viewed by some as beneficial.
  • The better that editors understand each others' POV, the better chance they have of collectively achieving a NPOV.
  • Both "pro-<something>" and "against <same thing>" templates should be treated equally, but in practice have not been so treated.
  • The existence of any POV userbox implies a right to create a userbox with an opposing POV, but regulation is likely to be one-sided.
  • Userboxes remind us that Wikipedia users are human and subject to differences of opinion and perspective (hence the term Point Of View). Acknowledging this, Wikipedia writers can more realistically strive toward a Neutral POV.
  • Removing outlets for personal expression would serve to alienate some users from the project.
  • Understanding another users position aids in discussion by allowing one to communicate in meaningful ways, informed by the users espoused outlook.
  • If you get rid of POV then the user pages turn into Wikis about non-notable people. The user pages are a place of self expression. If you want to have NPOV userpages, then you might as well take the word "User:" out of the links and make users have their own wikis. Senseless.

Concerns about not regulating point of view on userpages[edit]

Note: this is a place for listing brief (i.e. one-line) concerns about not regulating point of view on userpages.

  • Allowing userpages to have a point of view (acceptable) can lead to advocacy (not in the interests of the project)
  • Even if policies against advocacy exist, enabling mechanisms to make it easy to search for users with a particular point of view will make enforcement difficult and undermine the Neutrality policy
  • Displaying userboxes promoting a point of view radically undermines the ability of wikipedians to "assume good faith", especially on articles dealing with controversial issues.
  • Electioneering and campaigning. Will Wikipedia be used as a campaigning tool by political groups uninterested in building an encyclopedia?

Concerns about lumping in user expression with userboxes[edit]

Note: this is a place for listing brief (i.e. one-line) concerns about confusing two issues that may be separate.

  • There is nothing wrong with expressing one's viewpoint on a user page, within reason, even with a pretty graphic.
  • The issue here is the automatic categorization of users that userboxes produce, which facilitates the subversion of the policies of neutrality and consensus.
  • If categorization is removed, users will simply resort to finding what pages link to the image used in the user box as an alternative.


Please post all discussion relevant to this proposed policy on the talk page.