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Unlike many other types of discourse, comments on a wiki are not organized according to the time at which they were written. Indeed, there is often no easy way to determine when a particular comment was written. You may find yourself hopping from a page which was created last week to a page that no one has looked at for years, for example. Or replying to a comment that is three years old the same way that you would reply to one made yesterday.

If the pages are well written, it doesn’t matter. Every page is still relevant. Unlike a blog or a newspaper, the articles written on a wiki are not only intended for the current readers (RecentChangesJunkies). Instead, a wiki can be thought of as a one-way communication-channel to the future. Temporal context will be lost to future readers. Adding timestamps will not help, because we need more – we need the relevant context: Did the author write it because C# was hot? Because of the war in Iraq? Which war in Iraq? Writing well for future reads is therefore important on a wiki.

If pages are well-written, reading them can lead to a sense of “timelessness”. This state is referred to as the “WikiNow”. While individual threads on an email list happen at a particular time, discussions on a wiki page range over various different times. One might say that a certain discussion on an email list took place “on the week of november 3rd”, but for many wiki discussions, one simply says that they were written “in the WikiNow”.

See TimeInWikis for further discussion of the perception of time in wikis, including the time-anchoring force of RecentChanges.

Using a timestamp when signing contributions breaks the WikiNow. Some people feel this is necessary to allow them to repudiate things they wrote a long time ago. Other people feel that the WikiNow gives discussions a certain quality they want to preserve; this is why they prefer people not using timestamps. Sometimes people claim that adding timestamps provides the temporal context mentioned above. This will only work for a few particular dates all readers will know. This will depend on age, education, cultural background, and many other factors.

The WikiNow is an interesting style of writing resulting from the limitations of the medium. Instead of just accepting it, however, we could try to remove the limitations of the medium: Developping better tools to understand the temporal context of a wiki page and its edits. Interesting features would include:

  1. Who wrote the various parts of a page? When did that happen? Many version control systems provide this information. See HistoryFlowVisualization.
  2. What was the particular context at the time? Provide a way to view the pages linking to the current page or being linked to from the current page at particular points in time. Show RecentChanges for particular points in time. These “particular points in time” can probably be determined automatically: Likely candidates are the timestamps of each change to the current page, and specially the timestamp of the last change to the current page.
  3. What else did the last author write at the time of writing?
  4. What else did the last author read at the time of his page edit? This could be a snapshot of RecentChanges as mentioned above, or it could be a list of snapshots of particular pages.

CategoryWikiTerminology CategoryWikiDynamics


[fr] InstantWiki


Alex: I feel you are developing an excellent line of thought here and I am looking forward to helping as much as I can, all be it, over time (as opposed to ‘the heat of the moment).

The WikiNow is one facet of the WikePerspectives? that I have been musing about.

My initial reasons were;

  • I was frustrated by not knowing when something had been written. Hence, I had no way of knowing if adding a comment would encourage an author or if the author was long departed.
  • I find it most convenient to file by ‘Time’. This, of course, then forces me to ‘summarize’ such material, making it necessary for me to have developed my own nomenclature for temporal summaries (which I suspect will be of little value to others, given that our views of time are generally at least a function of our ages). I also, by the way, file by ‘Author’, ‘Subject’, ‘Category’, file ‘Type’, page ‘Title’, technical ‘Repository’ type, etc… (for many orthogonal dimensions)
    • I mention this because;
      • I came across your brief notes about Tags (based on the Flickr example) and have been spending quite a bit of time trying to understand the issues underlying the use of Tags.
      • I am constrained to the WriteOnlyOnce? (Wiki:OnceAndOnlyOnce) approach since its efficiency appeals to me and I see real merit in its propogation, other than just recognizing its significance in the RightToFork and other releated debates.
      • My personal use of TransClusion has shown me the value of thinking about any block of text as a ‘bead’ that can be threaded on an infinite number of ‘strands’ of discourse. If (in this analogy) the threads are thought of as the Context, then I find it easier to understand why Wiki:TriteSayingsComeInPairs (often contradictory, but both correct, and (in the science world) why the same ‘observations’ are often part of conflicting theories.

Ideally, I would like to be able to;

  • Isolate any block of text that is used more than once.
  • Transclude (as opposed to just link) it into a new page.
  • Have a Tag system that allows me to have a personal alias, or accept a Group’s common usage.
  • Use the InterWiki mechanisms to create a single control point for that reduces maintenance needs when a site that I have reference extensively changes.
  • Can provide me with RSS feeds that (client side) I could then assemble into any set of ‘pages’ I wish.

Obviously, I have a lot of work to do to be able to explain this adequately, but your post inspired me to at least make a (premature) start.

Cool! We can always just pick an issue and discuss that. Let’s start with your first point: Frustration because you did not know whether the original authors are still interested in the subject. As somebody who likes the WikiNow concept I ask: Why do you care? Both the original author and yourself will write for future readers. You write messages to people you don’t know. Trying to write a message to the original author is trying to write to past readers. It’s the “wrong” approach.

So what should we do if we don’t want to accept this? One thing to do would be to check the original author’s blog. It’s not perfect, but this is how you could find out that I’m still into Oddmuse, that LionKimbro is still into LocalNames, etc. So it will work for the big issues. I’m not sure you could use this method to determine if KarstenSelf is still interested in the TimeStamp discussion, however…

Another option is adding timestamps and guessing that interest declines with time. Not always a good estimate, but workable. It’s how humans work, I think. That’s why MattisManzel was interested in adding timestamp to our “new” tags (DenotingAuthors?). It tells us what is “hot”. The drawback is that there is a tiny group pressure to keep talking about issues while they are hot. There is no incentive to let issues rest and think about them. A WikiNow apologist might claim that we should encourage people to wait and think and digest and listen before replying. Empirically I think that it does not happen often. 😊 But then again, when it does happen, we’re often impressed.

What do you think?

I certainly accept the concept of writing for future readers, recognize it as one of the more demanding forms of writting, and appreciate those who strive to do this well. That being said, I also value the community spirit that is considered to be part of a wiki and the fact that relationships and friendships can be forged in a wiki. The (mild) frustration I referred to is simply that I enjoy finding an intriguing line of thought and trying to build on it. This is easier to do when the authors are still engaged in the topic, than it is to do after the have moved on. Hence, it is really a bit frustrating to find an intriguing thought, research the context within which it was written and its author(s), only to find that they have moved on. Its not that I’m trying to write to past readers (or for future ones, for that matter) but rather, that I have found interactive writing to be more productive. With respect to ‘hot’ or cool’ pages, the difference is largely a function of the frequency and the quantity of material that is posted. Obviously, frequency is a function of time. Adding dates therefore, should be helpful, especially when the material exceeds the scope of RecentChanges.

The most important point that I was trying to make is that I have come to understand that there are a great many facets to ‘wikis’. Some people see them as communities, others simply see them as technologies (Wiki Engines). Personally, I’ve come to think of them as being useful in both these senses, and am expecting them to continue to evolve along both lines. Hence, I tend to focus on both approaches in an effort to analyze the components of each. Ideally, it may then be possible to synthesze a new set of capabilities that can be applied in even more interesting ways. One example of this that I find especially intriguing is the emergence of Tags within Flickr, after having been largely ignored within the c2 wiki community environment, to the point that sociologists are now commenting on group behaviours related to the use of common tags. Given the amount of discussion here, at meatball and at c2 regarding naming conventions as applied to pages and their spaces, I cannot help but feel that there are valuable insights in what is happening at Flickr.

It might be cool to be able to see (somehow) RecentChanges from a particular point in history- perhaps from 2 days before, up to 2 days after.

If we get deep into it, though, we run into the danger of overriding ForgiveAndForgetInSoftware.

HansWobbe: We have pages ConsolidateInformation and OnceAndOnlyOnce. You might also be interested in: IdeasLikeStarsAndSymphonies. There’s room for a GlassBeadsGame? page. 😊

Indeed MutualInspiration is important… More stuff about transclusion as a tool to work with text (in collaboration with others or alone) is on the TransClusion page.

Define external redirect: GlassBeadsGame WikePerspectives WriteOnlyOnce DenotingAuthors

EditNearLinks: TimeStamp ForgiveAndForgetInSoftware KarstenSelf HistoryFlowVisualization RecentChangesJunkies


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