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TLDR: My idea is to have a way for early edits (whole new chunks of text) to be highlighted while the post is still fairly new, so that the "EDIT:" convention is unneeded, resulting in less noise in the long run.


During the earliest stage of the life of a question, there's a convention to mark updates on both the question and answers with an EDIT heading. For example:

Initial text

EDIT: More text

or

EDIT

More text

This is an effective tool to bring attention to changes in a post during that early refinement stage. But later, and for the rest of the post's life, those EDIT headings are basically noise. There are exceptions, but I believe that most posts (especially answers) can be made more reader-friendly by removing these headings.

To illustrate this point, here is an example of an answer I just cleaned up.

So my idea, which I realize may be far-fetched, is to have a way for edits of this kind (contiguous blocks of added text) to be dynamically highlighted by the browser, making the EDIT headings unnecessary.

It could be just a change in the background color of the most recently added block of text, or perhaps something more elaborate that can indicate each added block in a progressively-more-recent fashion. Vertical (maybe squiggly) lines in the left margin may be another possiblity, though I don't know if that would require a whole new kind of control to be used (you can tell I'm not a web developer).

There could be a new markup tag to indicate text which needs to be highlighted in this way. This gives the author control over whether the edit is highlighted. So for example:

Here's my orignal answer. Here's my orignal answer. Here's my orignal answer. 

<edit>Here's some more detail I added a bit later in response to comments. Here's some more detail I added a bit later in response to comments. Here's some more detail I added a bit later in response to comments.</edit>

might show up like this (please forgive my freehand attempt at squiggly lines):

Added block of text with squiggly line indication

When the post moves out of its active phase, the dynamic highlighting could cease, leaving a neater looking post.

Does this make sense to anyone else, or am I on the crack?

One possible problem is that some posts may eventually seem to contradict themselves when the highlighting ceases to show. (Ideally, any post which does contradict itself should really be edited one last time to remove any confusion added by the earlier edits... but sadly this often doesn't happen).

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I mostly like the idea, but tweaking it to ignore trivial edits and mostly trivial edits would take some serious work -- and doubtless a lot of confusion about the rules. –  sarnold Jan 24 '12 at 0:59
    
@sarnold: what about if the markup tag was required to activate it, and the tag would only work for free-standing blocks of text? –  Igby Largeman Jan 24 '12 at 1:02
    
I usually find that an EDIT label makes sense, because otherwise it looks like the author wrote a cohesive post and then suddenly switched directions partway through. I can usually see where a large edit has happened even without the label –  Michael Mrozek Jan 24 '12 at 1:14
    
The completely-manual mechanism seems like a better idea; though, as you've found, sometimes multiple edits are made. Would the system then need to track which users have seen which updates? Or would it highlight them all? (Not that the current situation is great...) –  sarnold Jan 24 '12 at 1:15
    
@Michael: good point; I'm guilty of that myself, especially when the questioner has made a similarly large edit. :) –  sarnold Jan 24 '12 at 1:16
    
@sarnold: Tracking which edits you've seen is far too complex; I think it would be sufficient to either highlight just the last major edit, or all major edits, just while the post is new (e.g. say for 1 week). –  Igby Largeman Jan 24 '12 at 17:04
    
In most of the cases that I have seen, the content of the "Edit" section should have been properly integrated into the main body of the question rather than being set apart. The goal is to produce complete answers and questions, not to track the evolution of a post as it develops. –  George Cummins Jun 6 '13 at 14:45
    
@GeorgeCummins: yes, that's the goal, but people set edits apart in order bring them to the attention of answerers - a behavior which is necessary for obvious reasons. Ideally all questions would receive one last rewrite to integrate all edits, but's beside the point here. –  Igby Largeman Jun 7 '13 at 0:11

2 Answers 2

The edit convention you describe is something that the community cooked up for this sort of thing, and it works...Sort of. I personally find it a bit... noisy.

The "correct way of doing this is to add a line, using three dashes, like this, just like you did in your own question:


The text appearing here would be the "after-edit" text.

Note that there is already precedent for this; I didn't just make it up. A line is inserted just like this automatically by the system when a moderator performs a "Convert Answer to Edit" action.

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1  
The line is a good indicator but it's not exclusively used to delimit edits. Something that exclusively means "this was recently added" would be nice. –  Igby Largeman Jan 24 '12 at 20:23
    
You guys have a button for that?? I want a button for that... –  sarnold Jan 24 '12 at 23:25
3  
It seems to me this edit convention was developed by the Web-forum community to deal with a platform that allowed editing but didn't show previous versions of a post, and they brought it with them here, just like the convention of putting tags in the title. Stack Overflow maintains an edit history, so explicitly marking new sections -- and even the notion of added sections instead of in-line updates to previous sentences (as though the "file" could only be opened in a mode instead of r+ mode) -- seems outdated. –  Rob Kennedy Jun 6 '13 at 12:47

I actually think it would be much better if there were the option to show changes compared to the last version inline on the main page rather than have to click through to the edit history page.

Even better would be a "show all changes in the last day" which collapses down multiple edits to show the differences between the question or answer as it stands and how it stood on the previous day (or its first revision if less than a day old).

The great thing about this second option would be that after it hadn't been touched for a day the differences would be hidden.

Even if the changes weren't shown inline, just adding a "change bar" adjacent to every changed line would help remind people that changes have been made and where they were made.

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1  
inline on the main page -- What for? You would force everyone on the site to look at the material this way? We already remind people that changes were made; look at the "edited" link next to your user card on this answer. –  Robert Harvey Jun 6 '13 at 14:38
    
No, the significant word here is option, something like a recent changes link which would work like show X more comments link replacing the current with the changes inline version of the question/answer. The main thing is this would be a presentation issue, not something the editor would explicitly have to insert into the text and which would have to be edited out again later. –  Mark Booth Jun 6 '13 at 17:36
    
It is already here: meta.stackoverflow.com/posts/183316/revisions –  Robert Harvey Jun 6 '13 at 17:37
    
@RobertHarvey - But that isn't in-line! Which is the whole point of the suggestion. You can't see that revisions to the questions at the same time as you can see the answers to the question. I will try to make my answer more clear. –  Mark Booth Jun 6 '13 at 17:40
    
Stack Exchange sites are a crowd-sourced activity. Their goal is create curated content, which means that the final version of a post needs to be the one that visitors see. Not edit revisions. Not EDIT:. But the actual, fully-formed post. –  Robert Harvey Jun 6 '13 at 17:45
    
@RobertHarvey - I agree, but I often see questions (especially) which have undergone significant revision in a short period of time, often by well meaning third parties, and you can see a mismatch between the question and the answers given. In this case it would be useful to see the summary of changes along side the existing answers so that suggestions can be made to improve the answers in light of the changes to the question. It is a corner case, but one I've seen quite a lot since I became protem on robotics. –  Mark Booth Jun 6 '13 at 17:52
    
I just don't see how the current Edit History doesn't already fulfill that need. Open it in a new tab, if you really need that kind of side-by-side presentation. –  Robert Harvey Jun 6 '13 at 17:58

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