Every edit, no matter how minor, bumps a question to the frontpage of an SE site. This behaviour is important to allow the community to review edits, but it also creates significant problems when a lot of edits are performed at once. What I propose is to allow minor edits that are not bumped to the frontpage. There is one huge and some minor problems with idea:
- Bumping the question allows the community to review the edit, without review a user could edit obscenities into old posts without anyone noticing it for a while
- Having users mark their edit as minor (e.g. with a checkbox) adds clutter to the edit page and might confuse users
- A user going onto a misguided edit spree is very visible now that the edits are all on the frontpage, if they are not bumped the edit spree will not be caught as easily while it's still ongoing.
So, why would we want to change the bumping behaviour and allow non-bumping minor edits?
The problem with the current bump-always approach
The current behaviour causes significant problems when a lot of edits are performed in a small amount of time. The edits tend to completely overwhelm the homepage, drowning out the newer questions on there and depriving them of the attention they deserve. On slower sites such an edit-spree can easily break the frontpage for more than a day, many SE sites have a pretty low question volume.
It also makes bigger retagging options a pain, you have to perform them in small batches if you want to avoid breaking the frontpage entirely.
Very large mass edits also obliviate the main reason why edits are bumped to the frontpage, once the mass edit is larger than the frontpage capacity, most users likely won't review the changes that were made. The edits are off the frontpage again before someone takes the time to check if they actually improve the post.
Bumping to the frontpage is also not the most efficient way of ensuring that edits get reviewed. To actually see what was changed in an edit you have to explicitly click on the edit history, something I suspect most users generally don't do. So if an edit makes a post just slightly worse, but doesn't deface it completely, it might be easily missed by the users looking at the post.
Solutions to the drawbacks of allowing non-bumping edits
Allow for adequate review of minor edits
We already have a tool for reviewing posts that are likely to deserve some attention, the
/review page. It has received significant attention recently, so we should make use of this tool to provide the necessary peer review of minor edits.
Minor edits should go into a tab on the
/review page, this would allow the community to review them even when they're not bumped to the frontpage. The reviewing should work similar to the other review tabs, once enough experienced users have reviewed the edit, it should be considered a good edit and removed from the list.
Another improvement would be to directly show the edit diff there, not just the post itself. This would make it quicker to see what the edit actually changed. A dedicated interface for reviewing edits would be far more effective, and we already have one for the suggested edits, so all the needed parts should already be there.
Make the minor edit detection automatic, not a checkbox
The determination which edits are minor should be entirely automated, avoiding the additional clutter of an extra checkbox on the edit page. I think it should be possible to define a few simple rules that determine whether an edit is minor.
If an edit fulfills any of the following criteria I would consider it minor:
- It is only a retag
- It only changes the title
- It changes less than x characters of the post
An additional improvement of the detection rules would be to distinguish between continuous changed characters and single-character edits. An edit that changes only a single character at a time at many places in a post is likely just fixing spelling, an edit that changes the same number of characters by adding another sentence might alter the meaning of the post more significantly.
Allow mods to "rewind" user actions
When moderators see on the frontpage that a user is performing a misguided mass edit, it is likely already too late and a lot of damage is already done. The easiest way to limit the impact of such misguided or malicious mass edits would be to allow moderators to undo all edits of a certain user in a specific timeframe at once.
Side effect on intentional bumping
As Adam Davis mentioned in a comment, using edits to bump your question in order to get some more attention for it is a common practice. This would obviously be affected significantly by this change.
My take on this practice was always that you were free to bump your questions, but the edits should actually be reasonably substantial. They should ideally represent your continuing efforts of solving the problem yourself and add more information to your question. So in this regard I think the change would actually be positive as it would encourage users to make more substantial changes when they want to bump their questions. It can be obviously gamed by just making some rearrangements in the question to fake a substantial edit, but the current system has even less protection against gaming it, the only one is the automatic CW conversion.
The automatic CW conversion after 10 edits is not a good solution to preventing excessive bumping, it's more an ugly hack that misuses a feature meant for something else entirely. If minor edits wouldn't bump a post and also wouldn't count against the CW threshold, it would drastically reduce the number of times the automatic conversion would kick in. It might even obsolete it as a mechanism against excessive bumping entirely.
This change would likely drastically reduce the amount of bumping new questions receive, it might make sense to increase the amount of bumping the community user does to balance that. Community could bump questions that haven't received much attention once much earlier in addition to the current bumping behaviour.