Death Of The Page

What happens when contributions to certain pages cease.

Is there a reason?


Three guesses:

  1. The changes slow down just enough for the page to drop off RecentChanges and QuickChanges. Out of sight, out of mind...
  2. (Humbling to those of us whose pages rarely get much comment) they just don't capture the interest of the group.
  3. The page already encapsulates the totality of worthwhile contribution to the topic.


Agreed. The second situation does happen a lot (to me!) but the much needed humility that this encourages should sometimes be tempered, as I suggested to BillBarnett over lunch the other day, when he, like so many before him, asked "Is it just me?". The subject matter may in some cases have been very worthwhile for another group of people. All the silence is saying is that the current group of RecentChangesJunkies on Wiki don't think this subject is worth the investment of their time compared to other subjects.

In Bill's case I definitely felt, personally, that this reflected a narrowness in the current Wiki village, that didn't have much to add to some very helpful insights from a software manager with a first class economics background and excellent exposure to ExtremeProgramming. That, of course, just reflects my biased perspective. The other interesting thing is that just sometimes a neglected subject is picked up months later and given an unexpected twist - this happened for example in a small way to the material I began that is now in WeavingTheWeb.

One of the biggest objectives for a more effective RecentChanges in the future would be to encourage more unexpected "sightins" and "insights" on the most neglected parts of the WikiIceberg.

-- RichardDrake


In a few cases a page has died through a contributor's resistance to its change. When the cost of refactoring a page rises above the benefit gained from refactoring, a page is effectively dead. However, these thresholds vary from person to person, so perhaps no page can ever be considered truly dead.


Even more unsettling is the StillBirthOfThePage?. You put together a few paragraphs that you think will be interesting and evoke lots of heated debate, and launch them into vast, echoing silence. Then you are left to wonder. Was the page Well it's definitely one of those!

This is known as Warnock's Dilemma. See http://www.nntp.perl.org/group/perl.bootstrap/1127

One could argue that some acceptable mechanism for AOL-ish MeToo is needed to distinguish the 3 cases above. Certainly public gatherings have their sounds and quips of approval. Perhaps this is lacking. --PeterKwangjunSuk


Those that know me well would I think accept that I don't normally aim to be a fully paid up DevilsAdvocate. But despite my sporadic aspirations to be a HumbleRefactorer sorting out the kind of digressions you mention, Dave, I sometimes wonder about the fact that many of the most interesting and amusing Wiki pages I've read contain some of the most violent divergences from their original topic. One reason I put up AlmostNeverDeleteHumor was as a suggested constraint on the kind of WikiRefactoring that might produce more logical WikiName/page text combinations but manage to remove something very special in the conversation at the same time. Oh, and while we're on the subject of deviation, why don't we look at all the rules of JustaMinute?

-- RichardDrake


Here's a related question on the topic. Being a RecentChangesJunkie myself, one of my WikiReadingHabits is scanning RecentChanges once or twice a day. On any given day, I typically only drill into perhaps a half-dozen, or dozen at most, of the pages that have been changed on that day. In other words, if my interest is not piqued by the WikiName of the page alone, I skip it. Of the pages I drill into, I may have have nothing meaningful to contribute, or again my interest may not be sufficiently piqued. So the question is, I wonder how many other WikiLurkers have the same WikiReadingHabits or WikiWritingHabits??

In this regard, Wiki is not dissimilar to mail lists or newsgroups (and I may get flamed for making this comparison) - not every thread (or document, in Wiki's case, depending on how you feel about ThreadMode vs. DocumentMode) engages every subscriber. Every once in a while, something that comes along becomes one of the more intense, longer-lived ThingsOnWikisMind (witness the recent WikiMindWipe, for example).

Another interesting question is which pages are getting the most hits (reads, drills into) from WikiLurkers even though they may not be getting edited frequently. I seem to remember one time finding a way to get a report of the most-requested Wiki pages in a time period, but now the procedure eludes me. Can anyone refresh my memory? Just found it again: see TopTen.

Now for the shameless solicitation: a couple of pages to which I contributed recently, that seem to be seeing DeathOfThePage, are IdeaFormDiscussion and MarsPolarLander. You guys care to jump into those threads? :-)

-- RandyStafford

They're both way beyond me. Seriously. Be encouraged. Or not as the case may be.


Wiki pages don't die... they just go dormant like encysted bacteria, waiting for a bit of moisture and a source of energy to grow. MarsPolarLander is just about perfect - I can't imagine what to add to it. Maybe it's not changing because it is, for the moment, done. (See DeathByPerfection.)

Just so I feel the right amount of encouragement here... what are encysted bacteria?

Some bacteria, in the absence of the right conditions to grow, can form a cyst, a tough membrane. When encysted, the bacterium can have astonishingly little biological activity. Encysted bacteria can remain viable (able to grow when the right conditions are restored) for a very long time (does anyone know how long? I remember it being hundreds of years, at least). I'm not sure if having your page being compared to a bacterium is encouraging or not. I admire this ability in bacteria.

Just don't admire this ability in code. Code that lurks for a long time without being used is usually bad. Usually synonymous with the phrase, "No one will ever see this," which is typically attached to random profanity in the code. Can anyone think of a good reason to keep around dormant code?

No, no good reason. If you think you might need it later, excise it from the production code base and save it somewhere else. I sometimes keep a cryogenic lab, under source control but not part of the production code base, where I keep experiments and tumors that I might want to study later. (see TentativeTossIt)

This is where the page/bacterium analogy hits a limit - and drawing the analogy further in the direction of code drops off the end: bacteria (and code) have metabolisms but a Wiki page is passive. As already noted, a Wiki page might "die" because it's achieved a kind of perfection. Such a page might be extremely useful, and used often, but mere views aren't counted in the changelog. Code that is never executed might be useless, but code that hasn't been modified since before you were born isn't necessarily unused.


Interesting side note. Before these edits, this page was last edited on October 26, 2000. The MarsPolarLander page has its last edit March 22, 2001. It looks like this page suffered a DeathOfThePage after the MarsPolarLander suffered a DeathOfThePage. The MarsPolarLander page had a rebirth and another death following. I think this proves the above author's point that pages do not really die but merely become dormant.


Sometimes a page will "die" (that is, stabilize) because it is complete. It is an excellent presentation of its topic, and no-one can find any improvement or fault. It is surely the ambition of every page to reach this state.

This may apply to this Wiki as a whole. We have a certain amount of experience, we've been capturing it over a period of several years; eventually, it will all be done, apart from occasional rare new insights. In other words, the reason why the signal has been dropping may be because we have nothing new to say. It's all been said.

Contrariwise, some of the noise comes from newcomers who are saying the same old things, perhaps in new ways, but without much new insight. They didn't know where on Wiki the existing page was, so they made a new one.

We should cherish the "dead" pages. RecentChanges is a disease of Wiki, a harmful addiction, because it hides the pages that contain Wiki's real value.

(I think the above is overstated, but I hope an element of truth comes through anyway.) -- DaveHarris


How about a LeastRecentChanges page that shows those pages that have been left unaltered the longest? -- AndyPierce


Sometimes a page dies because it has not been refactored. When a page is too long, people will not read it completely. When a page is redundant and disorganized, people do not know where to add their contribution.


See LifeOfThePage?

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