I'm a not a big fan of Wiki technology, mostly because I find the markup annoying and the random nature of Wiki changes difficult to follow. However, many Wiki software packages offer RSS feeds so that one can subscribe to a feed of changes in your favorite aggregator.

But they all suck.

At least all the ones I've tried do. Rather than take advantage of the fact that most people are reading RSS feeds in something capable of displaying HTML, nearly every Wiki RSS feed I've tried has been disappointing at best.

The most recent one I tried was the Channel9 Wiki Feed. (For a change, I'm not specifically bashing Microsoft here. This is simple the last one I tried.) Instead of providing much useful information (like *what* changed or even a snapshot of how it looks *now*), all I get is something like this:

WallopRequestList was changed 61 times by nathy, 000127A7BCBA48DF, blowdart, vivi734, Baretta, yydon, rocaliu, parachutist, selflex, Summer Maples, jackiebrent, HyLin312, cravingnigel, 00014A106DF3ED1B, plaptw, 0003000080E342B8, JThompson, erenhsiao, wek, Wek, nikanorov, huang.tseng, fdezjose, 00037FFE86C6ABFD, loadsgood, DigitalSnow, cnsoft, 00014A709211C50D, Aayush Puri, NetRyder

<sarcasm>Wow! That's soooo useful. Now I can build a script to figure out which nodes in the Wiki are changed the most often! ... or something</sarcasm>

Maybe my expectations are just wrong. Could these feeds be aimed at, not humans interested in actively participating in the evolution of an information space, but instead a piece of software somewhere that wishes to subscribe to a change notification feed for the purpose of mirroring the wiki?

That's all these seem to be: change notification feeds. "So and so change this node, but I'm not going to tell you how they changed it or even what it says no. You need to come back to me, the all powerful Wiki for that! (insert evil laugh)

Anyway, enough bitching. If anyone does know of a piece of Wiki software that produces RSS feeds that contain more than the absolute minimum of useful info, I'd love to hear about it.

Posted by jzawodn at January 02, 2005 10:40 AM

Reader Comments
# Moe said:

I agree that most wiki's rss feeds do not contain much more information than a change notice. However, wikis might be much more prone to URL-spam if the entire contents of recently modified pages were syndicated to a number of other websites.

As far as blogs are concerned, I'm a big fan of full-text rss feeds. But in the German blogosphere, some blogger's full feeds got syndicated by google spammers in order to generate content for their spam-sites. So some people reduced their feeds to only the first X words in order to have more control over their content. Which is kinda sad, I guess.

on January 2, 2005 11:08 AM
# Nick W said:

Wiki's in general are far too bloody complex - apart from geeks no one can use them and yeah, the rss sucks.

Im on the hunt for one that will:

* Allow it's self to be seriously dumbed down so normal people can use it

* Will produce useful feeds

* Produce better urls

So, sorry i can only add more complaints heh.. will follow these comments in the hope that some kind soul may point the way...

on January 2, 2005 11:54 AM
# Hans Henrik said:

Hi Jeremy

WIKIís are premature technology Ė so please donít judge Wikiís on how they looks and works for the moment but see the potential in what you can achieve and accomplish using them in the long run.

Best Regards
Hans Henrik

on January 2, 2005 12:00 PM
# David Heinemeier Hansson said:

Instiki includes full content in the RSS feed. I was blissfully unaware that this wasn't the norm.

As an example, checkout the Instiki RSS feed for the Ruby on Rails wiki: http://wiki.rubyonrails.com/rails/rss_with_content

Actually, there's even a choice. You can also get it just with headlines: http://wiki.rubyonrails.com/rails/rss_with_headlines

Instiki is available at http://www.instiki.org and is the most popular Ruby application on RubyForge according to downloads.

on January 2, 2005 12:15 PM
# Matt said:

MediaWiki actually does a pretty good job of this, putting a side-by-side diff of the change:

http://codex.wordpress.org/index.php?title=Special:Recentchanges&feed=rss

on January 2, 2005 01:16 PM
# Ben Nolan said:

Stikiwiki has awesome rss feeds. Har har! :D

http://www.stikiwiki.com/?action=revisions&mode=rss&q=index

How does it get much better than that? It's easily human-readable diffs - with links to the relevant revision.

UI design isn't rocket science. imho.

on January 2, 2005 03:31 PM
# Ryan said:

MoinMoin's RSS for the RecentChanges page sends back liks to the history and diffs as part of each item:

http://moinmoin.wikiwikiweb.de/RecentChanges?action=rss_rc&ddiffs=1&unique=1

If your RSS reader were so inclined, it could pick up on the "wiki" XML namespace to display something more intelligent.

on January 2, 2005 03:50 PM
# Gautam Guliani said:

Perhaps tt is the wikis you have tried that suck? :-)

TWiki (http://twiki.org/ ) has a decent RSS feed available for every page or collection of pages via an RSS skin.

More info at http://twiki.org/cgi-bin/view/Codev/TWikiSyndication

on January 2, 2005 04:20 PM
# kellan said:

Twiki's RSS feeds are functional, but kind of lame, I've got a recipe for an upgrade at:

http://laughingmeme.org/work/archives/001772.html#001772

Instiki's RSS feeds seem good now that I no longer get an error message everytime I follow the link in the feed.

on January 2, 2005 05:22 PM
# Shantanu Oak said:

Hans Henrik wrote:
>> WIKIís are premature technology.
If a beta software is so powerful and comes in so many flavours, I don't know what the Mature software will look like. I thank Jeremy for asking something that I was thinking for a very long time.

Matt said:
>> MediaWiki actually does a pretty good job of this,
>> putting a side-by-side diff of the change:
There is no option to turn this (side-by-side diff) feature off and read only the current page in the feed (may be diff=0 in the URL?)
I am using wikipedia.org RSS feeds powered by MediaWiki. On the diff web page, the differences are highlighted in red, but not in the feed. So I have to visit the actual page anyway, to check exactly what has changed. And that defeats the purpose of side-by-side diff in RSS feed.

on January 2, 2005 07:01 PM
# James Day said:

For the MediaWiki commenters, please remember to visit bugzilla.wikimedia.org with your suggestions and requests if you haven't done that yet.

Recent changes (and with it, article change notificatiosn of all types) have been going from "trust people and what their summary says" to "check things for vandalism" or "I want to watch that subject closely". Showing the changes and optionally the new version is more suitable for the way the evolution is going. The lack of diffs in some is just evolution at work and I expect most will eventually offer the feature.

Along the way in the MediaWiki world is handling 250,000 changes per week and a doubling time of 8-16 weeks for the English Wikipedia in some semi-sane way. If someone wants a feature in the RSS area and is comfortable enough with PHP to write it, please feel free...:)

on January 2, 2005 09:42 PM
# Janne Jalkanen said:

My JSPWiki produces either a full page or HTML diffs from the last version. This has turned out to be a very, very good feature for tracking wikispam :)

on January 3, 2005 12:14 AM
# WS said:

Dokuwiki seems to do a decent job presenting feeds with namespace options. It's lite but works.

on January 3, 2005 08:42 AM
# Bill Seitz said:

Many wikis allow a comment/summary to be associated with a change to a page, and most of those engines use that summary in the RSS feed. But people often don't use them.

A related issue is figuring out how to handle multiple changes to the same page over the course of a day (or an hour).

on January 3, 2005 05:12 PM
# Mike Cannon-Brookes said:

I'll chip in that most decent wiki's I know of (both commercial and Open Source) have full HTML feeds via RSS (including ours - Confluence)

Also, quite a few have complex REST-style APIs for their RSS feeds which aren't exposed by just clicking the simple "RSS" or "XML" orange buttons (for example feed of only comments, feed of only new pages vs updated pages etc).

Cheers,
Mike

on January 6, 2005 03:52 PM
# kebernet said:

Might I suggest JSPWiki:
http://www.jspwiki.org/rss.rdf

It provides a very nice diff style summary of what was changed, along with the who and when.

on January 7, 2005 03:01 AM
# Chris L said:

I'd like to think that wikis are really in their infancy and that we'll start seeing these needs addressed as they are used more heavily. The kind of organic linking characteristic of the "read/write web" isn't for everything, but it can be a powerful experience for the people using them to create content, just as weblog software often is.

Incidentally, I've worked at getting users of all technical abilities into them with some success. The concept is very well-aligned with growing needs in institutions and in education.

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on May 20, 2005 04:53 AM
# Arbitrary Antonym said:

You could aways... Write an extension.

I know twiki just uses RCS, so your really just talking about Perl-ing a wrapper around diff. Shouldn't be too hard. Then add it to the distro and get global cool points for saving the world.

-Or something
-AA,

on July 21, 2005 09:36 AM
# prozac said:
on August 2, 2005 05:29 PM
# sildenafil said:
on August 2, 2005 05:32 PM
# Alex Bosworth said:

I thought about this issue when I was designing SWiK (http://swik.net)'s RSS feeds.

You're right, it doesn't make sense that wiki rss feeds are not good, you want to have a watchlist that you can check on even without going back to the wiki all the time.

The other thing is that wikis with info that is updated, like a list of things kept on a wiki, don't have a good way to offer RSS feeds either.

I tried to solve it by just making the code for the history output independent of the format, it will spit out html changelog pieces into either an html wrapper or an rss one, ex: http://xml.history.swik.net/Ajax

and I tried to solve the RSS for wiki content problem by letting you create new 'entries' within a wiki page, ala http://swik.net/LiveMarks/LiveMarks+News or http://xml.swik.net/LiveMarks/LiveMarks+News

It generally works well

on January 8, 2006 01:06 PM
# Alex said:

My gripe with a lot of the popular products is that it's hard for a novice to get the wiki up and running. I've used pbwiki which is free, but to see a detailed revision history it costs something. I've also found, when I could get the wiki installed, mysql seems to be slow even for a small install. They'll be great in a few years though.

on July 11, 2006 03:49 PM
# sorin said:

Maybe only people with some wiki experience understands the need to see the diff (changes) instead of the newest version.

I've added a bug-request for mediawiki on:
http://bugzilla.wikimedia.org/show_bug.cgi?id=7067

It's true: dokuwiki has it and it's working prestty well. Still dokuwiki has it own bad parts.

on August 19, 2006 03:21 AM
# Wholesomedick said:

TWiki seems to do it better than MediaWiki -- one of the few good things I can say about TWiki.

Forum RSS feeds are as bad if not worse.

on October 5, 2006 06:50 PM
# Jim R. Wilson (jimbojw) said:

There is a MediaWiki extension now which permits authoring custom RSS/Atom feeds.

http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Extension:WikiArticleFeeds

It generates custom feeds based on article content. This isn't quite what you're asking for, it would seem, but it does make it easy to create your own feeds in nice easy-to-read wiki syntax.

on March 1, 2007 02:41 PM
# Gordon said:

Well I agree with you Jeremy.

What I would like to see is an RSS site designed specifically for creating rss feeds by a simple entry of the site URL, no selections, that's it period.

Then it would give the user an rss address for that specific url, which is contained within the feeder.

Savvy?

Gordon

on January 14, 2008 12:05 AM
# Bounce said:

Well, it's 2008 and still no easy RSS or "all page" change notifications. And, frankly, wikis still kinda suck.

The problem is that wiki development is all about content management, not how to help people make content. Of course, this is a common IT failing...

on June 27, 2008 12:30 AM
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