Text refactoring in wiki

Ward Cunningham: "For example, one process that happens in wiki is that pages evolve from discusion to essay. A lot of people want to read a discussion. The people who come to the wiki every day want to see what was said yesterday, so they want chronologically organized pages. But the sequence in which contributions were made is not a very good organizing principle for learning. So pages have kind of a discussion feel until the discussion dies. Later, someone comes back and reads the discussion and reformulates what you might call a thread-mode page into a document-mode page.

Often as you move comments around and have similar comments adjacent to each other, you find that half of the words can be cut out. Because a sentence says it all if the sentence is in just the right place. On Ward's wiki, the process has been called "refactoring," which is what we call the process in software. Ward's wiki is about software and it has software people on it, so they call it refactoring. Anyplace else it would probably be called editing. So on Ward's wiki, refactoring is an ongoing process. The assumption is that when something turns out to not be ideal, it will be refactored again. Everything is subject to refactoring. That's what we'd like to see in software.

Software has the advantage that it has a precise interpretation. Because software is written for a machine, we can rely on the precise interpretation to write tests. We can test that we haven't damaged or lost anything when we refactor a program. Whereas wiki, which is written for people, has no precise interpretation. I might say, "Gee, I'll pull this sentence up here and cut half of it out, because in this context it's easy to understand." Well I could be wrong. It could be easy for me to understand, but it might be hard for other people, and I don't have a test. So we probably lose information from wiki in the course of refactoring. Wiki is like a leaky bucket of information. It's losing information every day. But more information is coming in, so the net is positive. Even if it can lose things, wiki always has more to say than it did the day before."