Wikipedia edit history stratigraphy

tirau persistence
Persistence and change for the Tirau Wikipedia article.

Over the last few days I’ve been exploring Wikipedia edit histories. I intend to write a more detailed post later this week, but I want to share some initial results. These visualisations are inspired by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg’s History Flow work from 2004.

I wrote a Python script to collect Wikipedia page histories (e.g. all edits to the Tirau article as XML), inspect each revision & visualise the results. The code is an embarrassing stream-of-consciousness mess but I’ll get it on Github before the end of the week—one way or another.

Each graphic represents the history of a single article. Time moves from left to right. The varying heights of the coloured section of represent how many lines an article had at each point in time. Articles typically start short and become longer over the years.

This chart represents the history of the New Zealand photographer Fiona Pardington’s Wikipedia article. The oldest unchanged lines from the article are shaded deep blue; newer sections are shaded pale yellow.

fiona pardington time
Persistence and change for Fiona Pardington’s Wikipedia article.

Reading from left to right, we can see that the article was created in late 2013 and remained relatively unchanged until about March of 2014. Around this point it became briefly longer (note the stalagmite-like structure) before shrinking and then undergoing a rapid change where almost every part of it was changed. The article stabilised around May of 2014, undergoing only very minor changes until mid-2015 when much of the article’s second half of was altered.

The following chart represents the same article, but shades anonymous edits red. In this article’s history, one anonymous user made two small edits on the same date. Both changes persisted for many months. One of these edits remains part of the article.

fiona pardington anon
Anonymous edits in Fiona Pardington’s Wikipedia article.

I consider the final style of chart the least successful experiment. The visualisation below allocates a random but persistent colour to each Wikipedia contributor’s edits. In this case there are three primary contributors (shaded dark sea green, light forest green and yellow) and a set of smaller edits from other authors.

fiona pardington people
Edit authorship in Fiona Pardington’s Wikipedia article.

I will write a follow-up to this later in the week when I share the code, but for now here are two more examples: the Waikato town of Tokoroa and New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key. I find it interesting how varied the pattern of edit histories are.

tokoroa persistence
Persistence and change for Tokoroa Wikipedia article.

tokoroa anon
Anonymous edits for Tokoroa Wikipedia article.

tokoroa contributors
Edit authorship for Tokoroa Wikipedia article.

john key persistence
Persistence and change for John Key Wikipedia article.

john key anon
Anonymous edits for John Key Wikipedia article.

john key person
Edit authorship for John Key Wikipedia article.

One Response to “Wikipedia edit history stratigraphy”

  1. Ted Nelson says:

    History Flow diagram in Literary Machines 1987– I believe it was originally in the 1980 edition, not at hand.

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