A dispute over structuring some standard data in articles about countries escalated last week from discussion into a series of reverts and blocks, before calming down as editors sought to find a compromise.
Most country articles have had infoboxes in table form, containing an assortment of basic almanac-style information, such as flag and coat-of-arms, geographic and demographic data, currency, etc. In a few cases, these tables had been converted into templates, so as to make editing the article less intimidating for users who didn't want to tackle the table syntax. Other people objected that this was an improper use of the template system, which was designed for repeating similar content across multiple articles, not to branch out content from one article alone.
Starting 1 January, Jerryseinfeld began converting more of these tables into template form. Gzornenplatz reverted this change, which prompted a brief discussion on the Village pump. Things then settled back down for a few days.
The dispute moved into a higher gear 7 January, when Cantus got involved, and he and Gzornenplatz began systematically reverting each other's efforts over the next several days (both Cantus and Gzornenplatz are under strict editing restrictions that allow them to revert an article only once every 24 hours). Cantus took the side of having individual templates for each country, while Gzornenplatz preferred the versions with tables.
The next day, Gzornenplatz complained that Cantus had violated his revert restriction on a number of these articles, and Cantus was blocked accordingly for a week. After this, a number of sockpuppets promptly appeared to repeat the same edits Cantus had been making. Gzornenplatz reverted these as well, but was generally careful to do this outside of the 24-hour window. Ultimately, Cantus' entire IP received a six-month block.
However, Gzornenplatz's arbitration ruling also requires that he not revert without discussion on talk pages. When approached about the reverts by Páll, Gzornenplatz mentioned the active discussion on the Village pump about the issue (several other discussions had also taken place on Talk:Italy as well as Gzornenplatz and Jerryseinfeld's talk pages). The two exchanged further messages, with Páll eventually suggesting a poll.
At this point, though, Netoholic advised Páll about the arbitration ruling, with the opinion that Gzornenplatz could be blocked for failure to discuss his reverts on the talk pages of the articles involved. Páll then blocked Gzornenplatz on 10 January for 56 days, one for each revert he counted.
Gzornenplatz responded by contacting 172, who unblocked him and argued it "would be quite redundant [to have Gzornenplatz post] the same message on every country talk page explaining his actions". The debate now turned into an argument over the appropriateness of the block, which went back and forth before Gzornenplatz was finally unblocked.
By this time, the dispute was drawing increasing attention on the Administrators' noticeboard from other parties who urged the participants to cool down. Jmabel suggested that both Cantus and Gzornenplatz be unblocked if they would pledge to stop reverting, and that a poll about the issue be organized. As dab pointed out, "It is a question of format, not content, and there is no pressing need for a change without prior discussion."
Discussion and a poll seemed to indicate that most people wanted a common template that could balance the competing concerns, although some thought more flexibility could be achieved using subpages. After Cantus indicated he would respect the decision being reached, he was finally unblocked as well.
While it appears the new, more generic country infobox will become the standard, a large number of countries remain to be converted to this format. Davenbelle suggested it be deployed slowly to allow for any necessary adjustments to the template parameters.