Help:Wikipedia: The Missing Manual/Editing, creating, and maintaining articles/Monitoring changes
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After you edit a Wikipedia article, other editors may, in turn, change the changes you've made. As one of the notes at the bottom of the standard edit screen says, "If you don't want your writing to be edited mercilessly or redistributed for profit by others, do not submit it." Edited mercilessly doesn't necessarily mean your words will be ripped apart, but they could be. Once you've submitted work to Wikipedia, it's fair game; you don't control it any more.
Rather than completely abandoning your edit to its fate, you probably want to check in and see how it's faring. Most experienced editors monitor articles they've edited, both to make sure other editors treat their edits reasonably, and to learn from what other editors do. This chapter will show you a number of ways to watch articles for changes, whether or not you've edited them.
- 1 The user contributions page
- 2 Wikipedia's standard watchlist
- 2.1 The standard watchlist report
- 2.2 Adding pages to your watchlist
- 2.3 Removing pages from your watchlist
- 2.4 Modifying the standard watchlist report
- 2.5 Expanded and enhanced watchlist reports
- 2.6 Choosing your watchlist report format: Standard, expanded, or enhanced?
- 3 Multiple watchlists
- 4 Real-time monitoring alternatives
The user contributions page
When you're starting out, Wikipedia's list of your edits—your User contributions page—is a handy way to monitor changes to pages you've edited. You get to that list by clicking the "my contributions" link near the upper-right corner of your screen (assuming you're logged in). You'll see something like Figure 6-1.
The key to using your User contributions page as a monitoring tool is the word "top" that appears at the end of an edit. Whenever you see that, you know that you were the last to edit the article, so you don't need to worry that it's been vandalized, and you don't have to look at it to see what constructive changes other editors may have made. If the "top" is missing from an edit, then you can click the "hist" link to go to the article's history and see edits made since the edit you were looking at.
However, using your User contributions page for monitoring changes has some limitations:
- If you've edited a particular article multiple times, only the most recent edit has "top" as part of the row. That means you have to keep a sort of mental running tally of "tops" as you read down your list, so that when you come across the same article a second (or third or fourth) time, you don't think the absence of "top" means someone else has been there last. (For example, in Figure 6-1, the page Talk:Sam Wyly was edited twice, but "top" appears only once, after the last edit.)
- There isn't any way to tell when you've already checked on changes by others. Suppose you last looked at your User contributions page on October 19. At that time, if there was no "top" after the Wikipedia:Drawing board entry, you probably would have checked the page history to see what happened. Are you wasting your time by checking again now? (In short, this becomes a memory test, and even if your memory is close to perfect, you can still end up wasting time.)
Still, sometimes your User contributions page is useful as a tracking device. For example, if you've done single edits to a bunch of articles, then no editing for two days, and now want to see what's happened to those articles, the User contributions page shows you which articles you need to check. (See the box below for a tip on making the page more readable.) But if you're like most active editors, you want something that monitors changes more closely, like a watchlist, described next.
Wikipedia's standard watchlist
If you want to keep an eye on a limited number of articles and other pages (say a hundred or so), then the watchlist that Wikipedia provides each registered editor probably meets all your needs. Most active editors use this watchlist. You simply tell Wikipedia you want to monitor selected pages—articles, user talk pages, whatever. Then you run a report whenever you want to see if anyone has edited those pages since you ran your last report.
The standard watchlist report
Wikipedia offers you three different watchlist reports: standard, expanded, and enhanced. The expanded and enhanced reports build on the standard report. But if you're like many editors, the standard watchlist report (Figure 6-2) may meet all your monitoring needs. You get to it by clicking "my watchlist" (one of the six standard links in the screen's upper right corner, when you're logged on).
The rows of article-related information in the watchlist report are very similar to the rows on a page history described in Chapter 5: Who did what: Page histories and reverting. There's a "diff" link to show what the edit did to the article, a "hist" link to go to the article's history page, the article or page name, the time edited, three links to pages of registered users (user page, user talk page, contributions page), and the edit summary.
What you can learn from your watchlist report
First, you can get an overview of how active your watched articles have been. In Figure 6-2, since you've told Wikipedia that you want to watch 21 pages, and only six show up in the report, you know that the other 15 pages haven't been edited in the past 3 days. So you don't have to check those 15 pages for activity.
Second, you can check out what happened in the six listed edits by simply clicking the "diff" link for each edit. If you find vandalism or other problems, then you can revert the edit (see the section about reverting) and take other corrective action. (Chapter 7: Dealing with vandalism and spam discusses additional steps for dealing with vandalism, beyond simply reverting it.)
Third, you can jump from this report to a history page because you want to see all the recent edits to a page. The watchlist report shows only the page's most recent edit. If, for example, there were three edits very close together, you wouldn't be able to see the other two; you have to click the "hist" link in a row to see the history of edits for the page that's listed in that row.
Finally, near the top of your watchlist report, you see two groups of links. One group ("View and edit watchlist", and so on) has links to related pages. The other group ("Show last 1 | 2 | 6 |12 hours", and so on) lets you tailor your watchlist report in different ways. Before looking at those links, however, it's important to understand how pages get on your watchlist in the first place.
Adding pages to your watchlist
Reading a page, editing a page, or even creating a page doesn't automatically put that page on your watchlist. To monitor that page for changes, you have to put it on your watchlist yourself. You can click something in three places to add the page. Figure 6-3 shows you those three places: where you edit or create a page, where you move a page, and where you're viewing a page.
When you add a page to your watchlist, you're actually telling Wikipedia to watch two pages for you. That's because in Wikipedia, most pages have a corresponding talk page. For example, the South Africa article has a discussion page called Talk:South Africa associated with it; a project page such as Wikipedia:Sandbox is associated with the discussion page Wikipedia talk:Sandbox; the page Category:Uncategorized articles is associated with the discussion page Category talk:Uncategorized articles, and so on. When you pick one page of a pair (it doesn't matter which one), both pages show up in your watchlist report. It's normal Wikipedia behavior. You're free to ignore those extra pages when you read the report.
On the other hand, there are some pages you can't add to your watchlist; specifically, pages with the "Special" prefix, like the Special:Contributions page in Figure 6-1. These pages also don't have paired talk pages. "Special" pages are essentially on-the-fly reports—when you close such a page, it's gone. But then, there's no point in watching them anyway—they're not editable.
Removing pages from your watchlist
When you lose interest in watching an article, or when your watchlist gets too long and cumbersome, you can easily take one or more pages off it. You could, for example, temporarily remove part of your watchlist and save it elsewhere (to a subpage, or a non-Wikipedia document). Or you could use the removed links from your regular watchlist to create additional watchlists, as described in the section about multiple watchlists. Or you can just remove the pages from your watchlist and simplify your life.
You can see two links that let you remove pages from your watchlist near the top of Figure 6-2:
- View and edit watchlist is the commonest choice. As shown in Figure 6-4, it takes you to a neat list of your watched pages. To remove articles from the list, simply turn on their checkboxes, and then click Remove Titles (way down at the bottom of the page).
- Edit raw watchlist, described next, gives you a faster way to delete titles en masse from a long watchlist.
While the "View and edit watchlist" screen makes you click a checkbox for each page you want to remove, the "Edit raw watchlist" screen lets you select and delete wide swaths of the list as if you were editing a text document. (If you've been editing Wikipedia for a while and don't recognize this feature, that's because it's new in 2007.) As mentioned in the previous warning, you may want to save (in another place) any pages that you remove from your list. Unlike regular Wikipedia pages, your watchlist has no "history" page; you can't revert to an earlier version if you decide you've made a mistake.
Modifying the standard watchlist report
You can modify the standard watchlist report in a number of ways, either temporarily or permanently. If you change it temporarily, using choices on the watchlist report page itself, the changes will be gone the next time you look at your report. If you change it permanently, using your preferences page, the changes will remain in place until you go to your preferences page again and make a further change.
You can change the information your watchlist report shows you without permanently editing your watchlist. Near the top of Figure 6-2, you can see links that let you make three types of temporary changes to your watchlist report. "Temporary" means that the next time you click "my watchlist", the changes are no longer in effect. However, if you just refresh the watchlist report in your browser, temporary changes remain in place. The three types of temporary changes are:
- You can limit how far back in time the watchlist report goes. You can tell it to show only those edits that occurred in the last hour, 2 hours, and so on, all the way up to "all" edits. ("All" in this case actually means "to the limit set in your preferences"; see the section about watchlist preferences.)
- How far back you want to go with displayed changes depends on how much time and interest you have. The initial setting—3 days—is a pretty good choice. On the other hand, if you set the option to show more days, you're still free to ignore the older edits. To change the setting, just click 1, 3, or 7 to choose the number of days, or "all" to get the big picture.
- You can tell the software not to display edits by bots (automated programs that make routine corrections) or not to display edits you've done, or not to display edits marked as "minor".
- If your watchlist report is fairly long, it's generally a good idea to shorten the report by hiding edits by bots and edits you've done yourself. Edits marked as "b", done by software bots, can be safely assumed to be boring cleanup, not anything that changes an article's meaning. And you may not need to see all your own edits, because you can remember what they are. (You probably want to leave these edits visible at first, until you have enough experience to judge whether you find them useful.)
- Whether you want to hide the edits that were marked as "minor" by the editors doing them, or let these edits show on your report, depends a bit on your level of paranoia: Vandalizing edits rarely are marked as "minor", but (unfortunately) some experienced vandals do know this trick.
- You can change what type of pages are shown, via the Namespace pop-up menu. "All" pages is the standard setting. If you change it to Main, your report shows only edits to articles; if you change it to Talk, it shows only changes to the discussion pages for articles, and so on.
- Changing this setting to show only changes to articles can make your life simpler, but it also hides useful information. If you put an article on your watchlist, you may learn even more about what's happening to the article by looking at postings to the article's talk page—that's where content disputes flame up. (See Chapter 10: Resolving content disputes for details.)
- In fact, if you've been concentrating elsewhere and not monitoring your watchlist for a while, setting it to Talk, and then looking at postings going back a month or so, can be a good way to find articles where interesting things are happening.
Permanent changes via your preferences page
If you find yourself continually making the same temporary tweaks to your watchlist report, or if you think that the "all" option doesn't go back far enough in time, then visit your preferences page. There, you can change nine settings for the standard watchlist report, so that when it opens, it reads the way you want, not the way it automatically starts out.
To change the factory settings for your watchlist report, click the "my preferences" link (at the upper-right corner of the screen), then click the Watchlist tab. You'll see the page in Figure 6-6.
Of the nine settings you can change via your Preferences page, four are settings that you can also change temporarily, as discussed in the section about temporary changes, while you're viewing the watchlist report:
- Maximum number of days to show in watchlist. This option does the same thing as the "Show last" feature on the watchlist report, as in "Show last 7 days".
- Hide my edits from the watchlist.
- Hide bot edits from the watchlist.
- Hide minor edits from the watchlist.
The next two settings, "expand watchlist to show all applicable changes", and its companion "Maximum number of changes to show in expanded watchlist", give you access to all changes ever made to an article. These options are discussed in the next section.
With the bottom three settings, you can have Wikipedia automatically add pages to your watchlist as you create, edit, or move them. They correspond to the checkboxes shown in Figure 6-3. With these settings set to "on", the respective checkboxes are automatically turned on, saving you the trouble of doing so every time.
Most experienced editors do want to watch pages they create, and pages they move. As for automatically adding articles you edit to your watchlist, that depends on the kind of editing you do. If you fix a lot of typos or work on problematical external links or make similar fixes to lots of articles, you probably don't want to turn on this setting. If you did, you'd have to constantly uncheck the "Watch this page" box—or see your watchlist fill up with tons of articles you never want to see again. On the other hand, if you restrict your editing to a limited range of articles and mostly make meaningful changes to the content, then you probably do want to turn on the setting to watch edited articles all the time.
Expanded and enhanced watchlist reports
The standard watchlist report (Figure 6-2), shows only information about the most recent edit to each changed page. You can find out if there were multiple edits to a listed page—some of which might be problematical—only when you look at the history of the page, which requires additional steps. If you'd like to see all the edits that have occurred during the period shown in the watchlist report, you can change your settings to either the expanded watchlist report, or a variant of that, the enhanced watchlist report. These reports do show you all the edits during a period; they differ only in presentation. With both of them, therefore, you don't have to go to a history page.
The expanded watchlist report
If you set your watchlist preferences to the expanded view (see the middle options in Figure 6-6), then the report automatically lists all changes to your watched pages during the specified period (for example, 3 days), or up to the maximum number of changes that you specify, whichever comes first. (For example, if you specify 100 changes, and there have been 125 changes in the past 24 hours, then you're not going to see 3 days of changes even if you've also specified that.)
The expanded watchlist report in Figure 6-7 has 10 entries, covering a total of six pages. By comparison, the standard watchlist report, covering exactly the same watched pages over exactly the same period, shows only six entries—one per watched page with editing activity (see Figure 6-2).
The good news about an expanded watchlist report is that it can save you the time and trouble of going to history pages. The bad news is that the number of edits shown on your watchlist report could be many, many times what you'd see on the standard report (especially if your watchlist has a high percentage of pages that get edited frequently). For example, if the expanded report shows 2 days of changes, and one of the pages on your watchlist was edited 50 times during the last 24 hours, then all 50 changes show up.
If you like the idea of the expanded watchlist report (it sharply reduces your need to go to history pages) but don't like the added length (one row per edit), the enhanced watchlist report might appeal to you; read on.
The enhanced watchlist report
Expanded watchlist reports can get very long. Fortunately, you can shorten the watchlist report considerably, yet still have easy access to all changes to all watched pages during a specified period, by changing to the enhanced watchlist report format. Figure 6-8 shows the same information as in Figure 6-7, but in the enhanced format.
- Chrome: Press Ctrl-Shift-R (⌘-Shift-R on a Mac).
- Firefox and Safari: hold Shift while clicking Reload, or press either Ctrl-F5 or Ctrl-R (⌘-R on a Mac).
- Internet Explorer for Windows: Hold Ctrl while clicking Refresh, or press Ctrl-F5.
- Konqueror and Opera: Click Reload or press F5.
If you compare Figure 6-7 to Figure 6-8, you see that the 10 entries in the first have decreased to seven entries in the second. That's because an enhanced watchlist report has two types of lines (in addition to the header line for each day): detail lines and summary lines. If an article has been edited only once on a given day, you see a detail line. If it was edited multiple times, you see a summary line that tells you the number of edits, and the editors' names.
Figure 6-8 has three summary lines, as indicated by a right-pointing arrow on the far left. Examining these three lines more closely, here's what you can tell happened:
- The article Wheatus was edited twice, first by an anonymous IP editor (22.214.171.124) and then by a registered editor, Kane5187. The net result was a change of zero characters, as indicated by the "(0)", making it highly likely that this was IP vandalism that Kane5187 reverted.
- The article Stream Energy was edited twice by anonymous IP editor 126.96.36.199, who added a total of 78 characters with the two edits.
- The article talk page Talk:Sam Wyly was edited twice by the editor who generated this watchlist report. (Presumably he trusts himself, and doesn't need to investigate the changes.)
Say you want to see more details on the two edits of the article Stream Energy. Click the right-pointing arrow next to the summary line, and two detail lines appear (Figure 6-9).
The information in Figure 6-9 doesn't give you much of a clue as to whether this was a vandalizing or other problem edit—note the lack of edit summaries. To inspect the changes, either click the "last" links, which produce diffs (see the section about diffs) or click the "Page history" link, and then, when at the history page, combine the two edits into a single diff.
Choosing your watchlist report format: Standard, expanded, or enhanced?
So, which watchlist report format should you use? You can easily change from the standard report to the enhanced watchlist report, or vice versa. Just change and save your preference settings, and bypass the browser cache (see the section about saving edits), so you can just play around and see what you like. If you have relatively few pages on your watchlist, the expanded watchlist is great for a full overview at a glance. If your expanded reports get too long, or you prefer to have page changes grouped by page, try the enhanced watchlist report. If none of the three report versions meets your needs, then take a look at the options in the rest of this chapter: multiple watchlists and real-time monitoring.
When you click the "my watchlist" link, you go to your one and only "official" watchlist, and the accompanying report (standard, expanded, or enhanced). But you're not constrained to a single watchlist. For example, you could have a watchlist for articles you've created, one for editors you're watching for signs of repeated vandalism, and one for group of articles in a wikiproject you're working on, plus your "official" watchlist. Additional watchlists aren't quite as easy to create and maintain as your regular watchlist, but if you're watching a lot of pages, the extra organizational power may be worth the extra bother.
Creating additional watchlists
Creating a second (or third or fourth) watchlist is a two-step process: Create a subpage (see the section about creating a personal sandbox); then add wikilinks for the pages of interest. You can add wikilinks in a number of ways. For example, you can add them by copying from your raw watchlist (see the section about removing from your watchlist).
Figure 6-10 shows a subpage set up for an additional watchlist. If you watch pages on additional watchlists like this one, then you can remove them from your regular watchlist. You can, for example, shorten that watchlist to the absolutely most critical pages to monitor, and use your additional watchlists to monitor less-important articles as time permits.
Using additional watchlists
Once you've set up an additional watchlist, as in Figure 6-10, you can use it to generate a watchlist report in two short steps:
- Go to the subpage that has the watchlist.
- Click the "Related changes" link on the left side of your screen. (It's the second link in the "toolbox" set of links. It's not the "Recent changes" link in the "interaction" set of links.)
- What you see depends on the setting in the "Recent changes" tab of your Preferences page—either an expanded report, as in Figure 6-7, or an enhanced report, as in Figure 6-8.
Real-time monitoring alternatives
All the watchlist reports described so far in this chapter are snapshots of edits at a moment in time. Their information is current as of when you create the report, but they don't update themselves as edits are made. If you want to watch edits as they occur, consider receiving real-time updates for pages you want to watch. You use either standard web feeds, or monitor changes to pages on your regular watchlist using Lupin's Anti-vandal tool (User:Lupin/Anti-vandal tool).
RSS and Atom
Wikipedia supports two kinds of web feeds: RSS and Atom. A web feed is an automated way to get copies of changes to web pages of your choice. For example, you can sign up to get new postings to a blog, saving you the trouble of checking the blog every day. You read such notifications in a feed reader—also called a feed aggregator or just an aggregator—a specialized application on your computer.
For RSS and Atom, you have two choices. The standard way is subscribe to individual pages. But you may also be able to use a feed to get notification of changes to your watchlist (see the box about watchlist feeds).
Standard RSS and Atom feeds
The most straightforward way to get a web feed for pages you want to watch is to subscribe on a page-by-page basis to those pages. As with additional watchlists (see the section about multiple watchlists), if you want to watch both a page and its associated talk page, you have to subscribe to each separately. The link for the Atom feed is available on each page's page history tab. Click the "history" tab and look for the link on the left side of the screen (see Figure 6-11). To subscribe to the page, click the Atom link. Your browser then gives you the option of subscribing (exactly what you see depends on your browser).
Most feed-readers can handle Atom feeds. However, if you need an RSS feed instead, right-click the Atom link and choose your browser's option to copy the link address or location. Paste the address into your address bar (e.g. by pressing Ctrl+V) and replace 'atom' with 'rss'. Then press the Enter key to load the RSS feed.
Keep in mind that Wikipedia's web feeds include only the changed part of a page—in other words, the top part of a standard diff. That keeps the size of the text being sent via the feed to a reasonable amount, but it means that you can't see what the entire article looks like after the edit occurred. (If you do want to see the full diff, just click the link at the bottom of the item in the feed.)
Lupin's Anti-vandal tool
If you don't have many pages (or many active pages) on your watchlist, you might end up scrolling for pages and pages before you see any entries for editing activity. To put it numerically, this tool reports on edit changes every 30 seconds. Let's say that your expanded watchlist report showed 24 changes in a 24-hour period—one change per hour. For that same 24-hour period, this tool would show at least 2,856 status reports with no activity, and 24 or fewer status reports with one or more edits.
Implementing this tool is very straightforward:
1. Copy the one-line script importScript("User:Lupin/recent2.js"); to your common.js file, and then save the change.
2. Purge your cache.
- The keystrokes vary by browser, but Ctrl+F5 for Windows, ⌘-F5 for Mac generally works.
- You should see five new items in the "toolbox" set of links on the left side of the screen (see Figure 6-13). When you click the "Monitor my watchlist" link in Figure 6-13, you go to the User:Lupin/Monitor my watchlist page in Figure 6-12.