Ability to watch section levels of pages
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Assigned To
Authored By
bzimport, Oct 18 2004


Author: sundarbecse

I would love to be able to watch sections of a page instead of whole articles, particularly for pages
like [[Reference Desk]]. Otherwise, pertinent changes to sections that interest me get superceded by
subsequent changes to other sections.

Version: unspecified
Severity: enhancement

This issue is also part of the Top 20 wishes of the German community.

As a Wikipedia editor I want to be able to add selected page sections to my watchlist so that I don’t need to watch the whole article.

See https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Umfragen/Technische_W%C3%BCnsche/Top_20#M.C3.B6glichkeit.2C_eine_Kategorie_auf_neue_Artikel_hin_zu_beobachten (in German).

Further details: Helpful for e.g. notability or deletion discussions. Also helpful in case a whole section gets removed or in case of long articles where it's difficult to recognize fast which section was edited.

Needs to be discussed with: WMF/Flow (might be done via Flow)

This card tracks a proposal from the 2015 Community Wishlist Survey: https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/2015_Community_Wishlist_Survey

This proposal received 45 support votes, and was ranked #18 out of 107 proposals. https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/2015_Community_Wishlist_Survey/Watchlists#Section_watchlists


bzimport set Reference to bz738.
bzimport added a subscriber: Unknown Object (MLST).
bzimport created this task.Oct 18 2004, 7:24 AM
brion added a comment.Oct 18 2004, 7:31 AM

Sorry, but this is not practical; sections don't have a consistent identity which could be watched reliably.

  • Bug 5041 has been marked as a duplicate of this bug. ***
  • Bug 9111 has been marked as a duplicate of this bug. ***
  • Bug 19544 has been marked as a duplicate of this bug. ***
brion added a comment.Jul 13 2009, 5:48 PM
  • Bug 19530 has been marked as a duplicate of this bug. ***
brion added a comment.Jul 1 2011, 8:34 PM
  • Bug 29657 has been marked as a duplicate of this bug. ***
Kozuch added a comment.Jul 3 2011, 2:08 PM

(In reply to comment #1)

Sorry, but this is not practical; sections don't have a consistent identity
which could be watched reliably.

Current no simple technical solution is no reason for wontfixing. Request is still valid. Reopening.

Petrb added a comment.Dec 20 2011, 2:12 PM

I suppose you should consider using liquid threads for this, it support the ability to watch threads

  • Bug 40984 has been marked as a duplicate of this bug. ***

silas-bugzilla-account-this-address-might-not-work-for-email wrote:

Might it be possible to implement by putting the entire page on the watchlist but then adding a "filter" so changes that do not affect the requested section(s) are hidden?

There is already "hide bot edits" and "hide my edits", so surely "hide edits that do not affect sections X and Y" shouldn't be too hard?

What about rethinking the page architecture - converting sections into subpages and including them into an article themselves (which could be watched separetely)?

Qgil added a comment.Mar 9 2013, 7:45 PM

In 2004 Brion said before WONTFIXing:

(In reply to comment #1)

Sorry, but this is not practical; sections don't have a consistent identity
which could be watched reliably.

Then in 2011 Jan reopened. Yet Brion's sentence is still true. This features can't be really implemented until sections are something more than a piece of text between an "=" at the beginning of a line and the next.

Silas' idea is not bad, but still would be problematic e.g. what happens when an editor changes one character in a section? Or when a section is inserted before the one you are watching?

MediaWiki displays content in a way that looks like sections but in fact it has no idea of the semantic organization of a page. Before this is solved (is there anybody planing to work on this?) this looks like a WONTFIX now just like it looked in 2004.

Maybe we could learn the parser to know about sections? Would that be TOOOOOO difficult? I think the big number of duplicates here clearly show that this feature is what an (average) editor wishes to have??? Any objections?

(In reply to comment #13)

the big number of duplicates here

Calling 6 "big" is a bit subjective. Also see https://bugzilla.wikimedia.org/duplicates.cgi?maxrows=100&openonly=0&changedsince=90 for relations.

Any objections?

In general, a first step might be to define the best solution (which one?) and then break required steps into handle subtasks. To avoid misunderstandings, does the question for objections mean that you volunteer to work on this?

Qgil added a comment.Mar 15 2013, 4:27 PM

(In reply to comment #0)

particularly for pages like [[Reference Desk]].

The reporter of Bug 5041 says:

Everytime anybody nominates anything or votes I get notified in my watchlist.

The reporter of Bug 9111 says:

For talk pages and pages like Wikipedia's Village Pump and Reference Desk

The reporter of Bug 19530 says:

This feature might be very helpful in discussion pages and somewhat helpful
in articles (...) sometimes I post a question in the Reference Desk...

The reporter of Bug 19544 says:

That's not only useful for discussion...

And I can say that even if I watch hundreds of pages in many projects, I only really miss this feature with beasts like Village Pump.

Maybe the problem, to start with, lies in how we create and update places like Village Pump or Reference Desk? A majority of those readers are interested only in certain chunks of those pages. The case is pretty similar to Discussion pages, although the average traffic there is pretty lower and therefore manageable.

What is more likely to be implemented before: the redesign of the architecture of a MediaWiki page or special way to handle pages for discussion, allowing users the possibility to subscribe to certain posts/threads?

funnyman3595 wrote:

Perhaps we're looking at the issue wrong. The principle issue is not making all sections watchable, but rather making it possible to watch a specific section. Thus, we don't actually require a way to track sections in general, just a way to tag a particular section.

Suppose we add a way to tag a particular section. Part of the section syntax, a parser directive, a {{subst:}} template, or whatever other solution (or solutions) seems best. This causes Mediawiki to assign the section a unique identifier, which is then preserved in the wikitext. For a page like Reference Desk, this can be included in the standard "How do I post a question?" instructions.

Since the identifier isn't tied to the section's name or ordering, we no longer have that problem to deal with. All that remains is the (relatively) easy task of allowing people to watch that section (either including or excluding subsections), keeping track of who has, and notifying the watchers when changes occur. Nontrivial, but straightforward.

As a proof of concept, it could be written up as a plugin. Turn it loose on one of the major wikis, but locked down to specific pages or a housekeeping bot, to keep it contained. If it doesn't help matters, unplug it and call it a failed experiment. If it's especially well-received, consider integrating into Mediawiki proper. And if it starts looking like basically every section would get tagged, add a setting to auto-tag all new sections. Which essentially solves the original issue in its full scope.

Qgil added a comment.Apr 6 2013, 10:59 PM


(In reply to comment #15)

What is more likely to be implemented before: the redesign of the
architecture of a MediaWiki page or a special way to handle pages for
discussion, allowing users the possibility to subscribe to certain

Quoting from
http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Flow_Portal/Basic_information#Subscribe_to_topic :

It should be possible for a user to subscribe to an individual topic and not an entire page. Currently, users must "watch" an entire talk page in order to keep tabs on a single topic (which may be the only thing they are interested in).

Users should be able to subscribe to a topic in one of two ways:

  1. By commenting in the topic
  2. By manually choosing to subscribe to the topic

(In reply to comment #11)

What about rethinking the page architecture - converting sections into
and including them into an article themselves (which could be watched

Sorry for butting into this conversation, but I wanted to put in my two cents: I agree with Jan on his thinking that the MediaWiki software should eventually have the ability to compose pages from multiple sections stored in sub-pages. The only problem with that would occur when users attempted to edit the entire page. Would the editor go grab the wikicode from every single sub-page and merge it into a super-page for the duration of the editing session before separating everything back out once the user saved his or her changes? That would be…relatively complicated, to say the least, but it would probably be better than having to fetch each section's edit page for simultaneous and continuous display of each of those page's edit boxes. I do think, though, that the MediaWiki software needs to move toward this kind of an implementation when it comes to sections. Such a design would make it possible for cross- and inter-wiki editing of shared sections that could be independently arranged into articles on each wiki such that Wikipedia might eventually become what I guess you would essentially call a superset of all existing wikis in terms of content. The diff functionality would most likely have to undergo some revisions to make it resilient enough to handle differences between articles and sections not only across time, as it does now, but also across the space consumed by all of the servers that maintain wikis run on top of the MediaWiki software. The plus side to this would, of course, be that Wikipedia could reflect updates made to pages on other wikis dedicated to more specialized domains of knowledge. For example, WikiProjects could be expanded to include partnerships with wikis dealing with similar content; users would probably find this very useful in the initial stages of the possible deployment of the feature set which I am using this post to propose because of how WikiProjects could collaborate with other wikis to merge existing articles and sections such that their final versions rid the different websites' content of any disparity that might currently exist between them. Another advantage of cross-wiki article hosting would obviously have to do with the fact that such a setup would create a natural backup scheme for every single wiki on the Internet; if one wiki goes down for temporary maintenance, for example, the content that users wish to access could be delivered to them from another wiki via a server-side suggestion mechanism. Unfortunately, these ideas probably don't all belong under this bug's jurisdiction, which, as I understand it, deals only with the separation of articles into their constituent sections. In any case, I support this measure at the very least; if you think that any of my ideas have merit, then could you kindly direct me to a place where they might be useful?

Shorter comments (or structured text with paragraphs and sub-headings) on technical aspects highly welcome - note that this is not a forum. Thanks :)

(In reply to comment #19)

Shorter comments (or structured text with paragraphs and sub-headings) on
technical aspects highly welcome - note that this is not a forum. Thanks :)

Sorry! I'll keep a better eye on my posts' lengths in the future, but that was a kind of 'train of thought' post that I guess people try to avoid around here. But, returning to the post in question, have you actually read it?

Alsee added a comment.Sep 18 2014, 2:25 PM

This can be implemented as a filter on page watchlisting. A section begins at the first character of the section-title, the section ends at the last non-whitespace character before the next *equal level* section title (or the end of page). Any edit that adds, removes, or alters even one character in this region counts as a watched-edit. Any edit that touches the section title itself is a watched edit. Special case: If a section title is modified into a new valid section title then the watchlisting should be updated to follow the new section title. An edit that creates or modifies a subsection will be seen because the defined section only ends at the next *equal level* section. An edit that creates a new equal-level section after the watched section will not be watched, it is clearly outside the filter-zone I defined.

This bug/enhancement has only a few votes, but there's no doubt it would be widely valued.

Interesting new thought: A page watch that notifies you *only* of new section titles. This has various uses. It's a great way to follow Village Pump or Articles For Deletion of other process-pages. It's a great way to set aside articles-of-interest and only jump in when an important/interesting new Talk topic appears.

I think there are multiple degrees of complexity / steps possible here.
The simplest/crudest way possible is probably

  1. add a "watch" / "unwatch" button next to the "edit" button of each section, which stores the header text as is in the user's watchlist,
  2. let users edit that text match freely in Special:EditWatchlist,
  3. show in Special:Watchlist only the edits whose summary matches that section text, similar to how we filter by minor/bot/etc. edit.

Of course this would cover only a subset of the cases, but potentially a significant one. Anyone bothers to search in Google Scholar or whatever if there's some relevant past research on section editing?

Nemo_bis set Security to None.

This would be very useful! Had the same idea - glad to see it already being filed here. It's really inconvenient to have to watch a whole page if you just want to get notified at changes of a specific section. Eventually this would actually lead to more people watching more pages and that more efficiently. Hence it might lead to a significant improvement of Wikipedia's quality. Among many other things it would also be useful for talk pages & meta discussions fostering more & better discussion there.
-> It allows people to more efficiently watch more pages.
So I really hope for this to get solved at some point.

Eventually one would have to go for another approach than what is used for article-differences right now. After all it probably comes down to:
a) splitting the old document into sections (syntactically)
b) comparing whether the differences to the new html document include parts within the watched section
c) recognizing renamings of the section when the comparison detected the name of the watched section of the old document in b) but not in the new document

Qgil added a comment.Mar 7 2015, 9:06 PM

I'm still missing credible examples of articles (not discussion pages)
where this feature would be so badly needed and so popular as to refactor
MediaWiki page structure. With the current = sections any implementation
would be too fragile, for the reasons explained above.

I keep thinking that Brion did well declining this task year ago. Flow is
covering the need of this original and all the duplicates, which focused in
discussion pages.

so badly needed and so popular as to refactor MediaWiki page structure.

Judging the use case from the difficulty of one proposed implementation is not particularly helpful, IMHO.

It's not that difficult to find examples of the use case: just find a busy page from the wikistats zeitgeist, check its history:

MariaDB [cawiki_p]> select rev_comment, count(rev_comment) as comments from revision where rev_page = 309 group by rev_comment order by comments DESC limit 10 ;
| rev_comment                                             | comments |
|                                                         |      441 |
| /* Enllaços externs */                                  |       66 |
| /* Districtes i barris */                               |       54 |
| /* Ciutats agermanades */                               |       30 |
| /* Esdeveniments */                                     |       29 |
| /* Clima */                                             |       26 |
| /* Ciutats agermanades i convenis de col·laboració */   |       26 |
| /* Política */                                          |       19 |
| /* Geografia */                                         |       17 |
| /* Esport */                                            |       17 |
10 rows in set (0.01 sec)

As a user interested in external links spam/clima/política/geografia/esport, I want to contribute to the relevant section of an article and follow updates to that section, without being bothered by all the useless quarrels of the editors interested in [other thing].

Alsee added a subscriber: Alsee.Nov 17 2015, 12:47 PM

Why is this listed as blocked by T38340? The presence or absence of opposite-direction text should be irrelevant to detecting that text is unchanged.
Note: This feature is on the list of projects being considered for the Community Tech team.

http://bugs.wmflabs.org/show_activity.cgi?id=738 said:

mah 2012-05-01 21:03:57 UTC Depends on 36340

Seems a mistake indeed.

Menner added a subscriber: Menner.Nov 19 2015, 7:00 PM

The diff algorithm does already evaluate context information[1]. Why not collection context information about sections while creating a diff. It is not uncommon as gnu pages say[2]. In a second step this information can be used by the watchlist code to evaluated observed section. At best give the whole section context like: == H1 === H2 ==== H3

Using the wiki syntax '==' and '===' isn't fragile since wiki syntax is the pillar of Mediawiki, also it has a minor pitfall about invariance. In doubt such changes can be high lighted diffrently in the watchlist.

The section context would be also useful for diff pages. We are using diff for that long and havn't adopted it for our purposes ever. Isn't that odd?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:Diff
[2] https://www.gnu.org/software/diffutils/manual/html_node/Sections.html


We are using diff for that long

Who is "we"? Wikimedia wikis don't use GNU diff but wikidiff2.

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DannyH edited the task description. (Show Details)Feb 5 2016, 11:51 PM

Two questions:

  1. Is this task about any pages (as Flow on talk/discussion pages offers watching a specific section / topic, so technology already exists but outside of the MediaWiki core), or rather about articles in the main namespace as described in T2738#1098527 ?
  1. Is the situation described by Brion twelve years ago in T2738#34503 still the current status or is the Parsing-Team working on technology that might overcome this?:
In T2738#34503, brion wrote:

Sorry, but this is not practical; sections don't have a consistent identity which could be watched reliably.

This is about standard wikitext pages

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