Change Summary Discussion

 A Page discussing the existence and maintenance of a page called ChangeSummary.

Q: Is this page still maintained somewhat? -- TakuyaMurata

A: From HomePage of Cliff:

Cliff wandered into Wiki around July 1999, and he has read most of it. He still wonders WhyWikiWorks (and sometimes WhyWikiWorksNot). In late 1999, Cliff tried to improve the C2 wiki through the ChangeSummary project, which taught him difficult but valuable lessons about the limits of the C2-wiki community. He thinks the C2 wiki is large enough to need ChangeSummary, but too small to support it. Cliff was more successful in lobbying WardCunningham to solve the problems described in EditConflictResolution.

ChangeSummary didn't work. See below for the original plans, early responses, and some conclusions.
ChangeSummary was created largely due to frustration with RecentChanges. Many of the changes listed in RecentChanges improve the page for a new reader, but are useless to a frequent reader. Other changes are valuable, but hard to find, especially if they are in the middle of a large page. The summaries are intended to allow people to quickly find valuable changes, while avoiding changes that do not contribute new content. It is hoped the summaries will allow busy people to spend less time searching for content, and more time contributing content of their own..

Many names were considered for the summary page. The originator did not want a long name, so the decision was made to take the two most useful words from the list Recent, Change, and Summary. The originator plans to summarize at least once per day for at least a month, and hopes that others will help with the summaries. (Even a single well-written summary will be appreciated.)

Please read the ChangeSummaryGuidelines, and place comments about the guidelines there. Any other discussion regarding these summaries is welcome here.

As of September 1999, the Wiki difference-tool (EditCopy) only lists the most recent change to a page. If multiple edits are done before the page is summarized, earlier changes may not be recorded. If one notices a missed change, that would be a good reason to update the summary.

I'm surprised that very few people are reading the ChangeSummary. (From the log stats it appears that the summary is loaded less than 10 times/day. Most updated pages are loaded about 20-30 times/day regardless of title. Maybe it should have been named LordOfTheChangeSummary?. :-)

Is there some particular reason the summaries aren't read more often? Is the delayed nature of the summaries a big problem? Are the summaries useful?

Sometimes it seems that the only real value of the summaries is to point out "significant" changes and filter out spelling/minor edits - would this be enough? It would save a huge amount of time to just do a "significance ranking" of 1-5 (1 would be a spelling change and 5 would be a multi-page essay). Preparing a full weekday of summaries currently takes about 60-90 minutes (just reading the changes requires about 15-30 minutes).

Any comments would be greatly appreciated. I really don't understand why the summaries aren't useful to most readers here. Is there any way to improve the summaries? Should they simply be abandoned? -- CliffordAdams

I'm concerned that if I read the summary page and not RecentChanges, I may miss something. If I read RecentChanges first, then I tend not to bother with the summary. It's partly a reliability and credibility issue. It's hard for you to convince me that the summary is risk-free. -- DaveHarris

I'm less concerned with the "reliability and credibility" issues because so far the ChangeSummary has been less than perfect, but great none-the-less: it gives wiki an even higher SignalToNoiseRatio ... wow.

But the RecentChanges page is always up to date (the ChangeSummary is 3 days behind today) and therefore more useful for the junkies that are looking at Wiki every day.

The ChangeSummary page seems very valuable to those who are looking less frequently. Perhaps it is deceptive that the change summary is loaded less than 10 times a day: if people who read wiki once or twice a week on average are the ones loading the ChangeSummary, that may represent 50 active users of the page.

Would it be possible to semi-automate the ChangeSummary? Perhaps dump a running diff to the page, then we could "clean it up" as we use it. Maybe that would prove useful to the regular user as well as the several time a day, every day WikiJunkie.

Great idea! (Gosh it's a pain to do! ;-)
  1. Need a convention for skipping pages I don't want to summarize. Like, listing the page names but not summarizing changes and/or a "..." notation between listings to show that I skipped a number of pages other people changed, to put in a summary of >my< changes.
  2. This could be made a lot easier by having a "comments" box on the EditPage (and EditCopy) so that the person doing the changes can summarize them. (It's a start, at least!) "comments" on source code checkin.
-- JeffGrigg

pain or not, it's gonna be worth it in the long run. More of us will be a lot more likely to help with the ChangeSummary if we saw that someone needs to tighten up that darn mess at the top of the page.

BoyThisStuffMakesMeFeelStupid: let's say a change was made in the middle of a page. Is there a WikiDiff? or something that allows me to see what was added or removed?
I love it! Goodbye RecentChanges -- SimonMichael Just made a bunch of edits - now I feel guilt for not summarizing. Hmm, overload
Here Here! Good thinking Greg!

When we edit pages, we could have two text boxes: one that is the page, and another small blank Summary box that we could type in "[MIDDLE] expanded explanation of Foo" or something.

In my own testing wiki I made the changes requested above (auto-update and a summary textbox). I've also added a checkbox that editors can check when doing minor edits - it places the page on a separate "RecentEdits" list (with an associated EditSummary?). (The edit-checkbox was inspired by the excellent FoxForumWiki.)

See for this test wiki. Feel free to test it (especially by editing or adding new pages). The code is based on AtisWiki, but it is greatly simplified (about 600 lines of code supporting only flat files and Wiki markup). The code could use a bit more cleaning, but it's available (by email) for anyone who wants to try it (that includes Ward :-). -- CliffordAdams

Cliff's WikiMod? works well, but it could use a feature: on a given day, pull all the ChangeSummary bullets into a single heading rather than listing the same page multiple times. -- EricHerman
November 19, 1999:

It has been over three weeks since the last full update of ChangeSummary. The main reason I stopped updating it was that the summary simply took too much time, and it didn't seem likely that others would be able to help effectively. ChangeSummary required about 60-90 minutes every day even with custom browsing tools (which probably saved 30-60 minutes/day). My original hope was that 3-5 other people would help, and I would do about 30-45 minutes/day (with occasional breaks). ChangeSummary was quite difficult to update without change-browsing tools, and I appreciate the efforts of those who helped out.

The other major reason I stopped was that I'm not sure ChangeSummary is beneficial to the quality of wiki content. My intent was that the summaries would allow busy people to keep up with the flow of content without needing to spend hours/week clicking through RecentChanges. ChangeSummary might amplify RecentChangesJunkie effects by emphasizing the new edits over the full context of the pages.

ChangeSummary was also intended to allow VolunteerHousekeepers to feel more free to change pages (since small edits could be clearly marked in ChangeSummary). I now think this function would be much better served by a "Recent Edits" checkbox (like on FoxForumWiki and my test wikis).

I consider ChangeSummary a partial success, since I learned several lessons including:

Finally, I'd like to thank WardCunningham for his support of the ChangeSummary experiment (even though he was properly concerned about its possible impact). -- CliffordAdams

How about a hi-lite option to the cgi-bin script, that would yellow-hilite the recent changes on the page? Links out of RecentChanges could automatically have hilite enabled.

Should even be able to display hilites at word-by-word granularity, not just lines - in theory, once diff returns "changed"-type lines, these lines could be split at word boundaries and re-run through diff. The line numbers in diff's output should specify changed word indicies...(I think). -- BillKelly

Hmmm... a highlight option kicks off all sorts of questions and problems in my mind. I think it's great food for thought, but let's kick this around a bit. I expect that it'll require much examination before a useful plan will arise.

If one person adds a paragraph of text, the new text would be hi-lited ... if I later correct a spelling error elsewhere on the page, would only that then be hi-lighted?

How else could hi-liting be done?

Maybe instead of hilighting every change based on a diff, there could be a check box that says, "hi-light changes" ... then the high-light would only move if the next editor wished it to do so.

Maybe the check box is a good idea ... maybe in addition to hi-lighting the text in the page itself, it would hi-lite the entry on the RecentChanges page.

Maybe this should be a second check box?

This might allow me to make a spelling correction to a page ... have it still show up on RecentChanges, but you wouldn't have to re-read that same big long boring page just to figure out if I added something you might want to read.

On the other hand, does anyone really want to deal with two more check boxes?

-- EricHerman
The latest version of UseModWiki has several features inspired by ChangeSummary:

I'm considering implementing various kinds of metadata for each page - things like keywords, categories, ratings, and housekeeping comments. People who are interested in a particular kind of metadata could view it, while others would be free to focus on the main content. Comments or suggestions would be very welcome. -- CliffordAdams

How about this: put an edit box at the bottom of the page that has a date in it and a button next to it titled "Refresh". Highlight all additions and show deletions as crossed out text, for all changes made since that date. Make the date default to the day before the last change, but let the user change it and rebuild the page based on the new date. Or you could do something similar with a revision number. -- PhilGoodwin

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