Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A ‘Show recent changes’ editor-feature

Text editors and word processors keep track of the changes you’ve made. This enables their undo/redo features. It’d be nice if they could also use that information for a ‘show recent changes’ feature that visually indicated those changes within the document.

Some editors, such as Microsoft Word, have features along these lines, but it doesn't seem to be very common. Here's my view of what it could be like.

Consider someone using a word processor. Say they’d made three changes, being, from most recent to least recent: 1) inserted a new word 2) deleted a word 3) changed the text in a sentence from bold to italics.

Those changes might be visually shown in the document like this. Inserted text might be shown with a blue background; deleted text with a red strikethrough; and a green background for modified text, along with a description of the modification. That description could be displayed in a call-out that points to the modified text, or in a superscript label above the text. In the case of change 3) the description might say ‘bold -> italics’.

A small superscript number contained in a circle could be written next to each of these changes, to indicate the order they were made in. So the new word would have a 1 next to it, the deleted word a 2 next to it, and the changed text a 3 next to it.

By default, it might show all of the changes in the undo buffer, but it could be handle to be able to tell it to only show the, for example, 5 most recent changes.

Sometimes it's difficult to remember the changes you've made while editing the document. It can be especially confusing when you're moving information around with cut and paste. Using undo to see what changes you've made can be awkward and errorprone; it'd be more convenient to be able to see the changes. I think it'd also be better for undoing specific things done a number of changes ago, and for getting an overview of what changes have been made during a session.

A more sophisticated version of this feature could more explicitly handle text being moved around within the document. With just the basic 'insert', 'remove' and 'modified' changes listed above, copying then pasting text is just registered as an insert. Cutting then pasting text is noted as a remove then an insert.

But you could make it more explicit that the text has been moved. It could show the text as being inserted into the new position, but also have an arrow back to its original position, also indicating whether it was copied or cut from there.

How you might be able show recent changes in other types of editors, such as for graphical or musical information, is another matter.

The general principle behind this idea is that if you have information concerning other information (in this case, the information about changes, which concerns the inforamtion in the document), then it’s usually useful to be able to see their relationship as directly as possible, by showing them together.

No comments:

Post a Comment