Monday, January 02, 2006

Beware of case sensitivity in Wikipedia article names

Usually, you can type in a term in Wikipedia and not worry about capitalization, but sometimes that is not the case. If you enter a term and are told that "No page with that title exists", you might try capitalizing some of the words.

In my case [Ha Ha!], I searched for "pact with the devil", but was told "No page with that title exists." I then clicked on the first search result below the error message, which happened to be titled "Pact with the Devil" and was taken to the article with that name. I tried my search again with some capitals, "Pact with the Devil", and was taken directly to the named article.

I scrounged around and did manage to find the "official" Wikipedia rules for case sensitivity, in an article entitled "Wikipedia:Searching":

While Go is usually, but not always, case insensitive, Search is always case insensitive. More detail about case sensitivity is provided below.


Case sensitivity

Search is always case-insensitive, so searches for "fortran", "Fortran" and "FORTRAN" all return the same results.

Go is always case-insensitive for the first character of the article title, and in most cases for the entire title. Go is case-sensitive only if an article has a name including a mixture of capitalized and uncapitalized letters and is neither all initial cap or all lower case following the first word. For example, consider the article French and Indian Wars. Entering 'french and indian wars' and pressing "enter" or Go will not take the reader to this article. However, 'French and Indian Wars' will work, as will 'french and Indian Wars'. If the article name were 'French And Indian Wars' or 'French and indian wars' entering any capitalization variant would suffice. Redirects can be used to work around this problem. For example, searches for any miscapitalization of 'Isle of Wight' match Isle of wight which redirects the user to the actual article named Isle of Wight.

Note that "Search" does not take you directly to the article, and "Go" implicitly does a "search" if a title match is not found anyway.

My technical analysis: This is really stupid. There is no valid technical reason why the search (for "Go") cannot be case insensitive. And, the current behavior is not user-friendly.

Final note: miscapitalization is not even a word in the English language! And, uncapitalized is not in the main dictionary for or the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, although it is in M-W's unabridged dictionary. Finally, the Wikipedia usage in "article has a name including a mixture of capitalized and uncapitalized letters" would better be worded as "article has a name including a mixture of capital and noncapital letters". A word may be capitalized, but a letter may be a capital. As a user, my expectation is that Wikipedia content will be properly capitalized, but my search (and "Go") terms may in fact be improperly capitalized, if for no other reason than the simple fact that I may not know the proper capitalization.

Memo to Jimmy Wales: Try making the Wikipedia a little more user friendly. If you are clueless as to how to do that, how about hiring some professionals?

-- Jack Krupansky


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