IBM releases freeware for visualizing document histories

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

Cambridge, Massachusetts

IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center in Cambridge released a free tool March 25 for visualizing the changing history of a document or directory of documents, called history flow. The tool offers a variety of views of document histories, including a view that gives each revision equal importance, and a timeline view which displays each revision proportionally to how long it remained current. Each different editor who makes changes to the article has a distinct color, allowing for that editor's text to be tracked over time.

The tool was first developed in 2003 by a collaboration between Fernanda B. Viégas of the MIT Media Lab and Martin Wattenberg and Kushal Dave of IBM. It was initially tested out on a large subset of the pages of Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia project which preserves every change made to each of its articles. The resulting paper was drafted in the winter of 2003 and presented at a conference in April 2004; it remains the most comprehensive overview of the lifecycle of articles in an active wiki community. A year later, the history flow paper is still the most frequently cited source of statistics about the reversion of vandalism on Wikipedia.

The current tool is maintained by Martin Wattenberg and Jonathan Feinberg at IBM. It allows users to download the text and histories of the contents of any MoinMoin wiki, or to view the history of the contents of an entire directory of documents. The tool is free to download and use, but its code is not open source. The support for MoinMoin wikis comes via a plugin, so the tool may be extensible to the native interfaces of other wiki engines in the future.