Part of it is about calling attention to things the reader will find valuable, with the heuristic that novelty implies value. This is of benefit for the reader.
Part of it is about calling attention to content which has not yet been judged; it is a good way to get quick and massive PeerReview by calling attention to new material. It is a way of inviting new contributions in specific areas. This is of benefit to the system.
There's also notion of conversation with rapid to-and-fro of comments and currency of ideas (in the sense of "being current"), which relies on timeliness.
[Or see Wiki:RecentChangesJunkie for the real reasons. ;-]
I gather from discussion on UserName that RecentChanges is used in ways I don't understand and which aren't covered by the above. Perhaps as an AuditTrail as part of the security system. Perhaps as a kind of scent-passing system, as with dogs sniffing a lamppost for traces of their fellows.
RecentChanges is a like a transaction log in this role, except it's somewhat temporary as subsequent edits blow away history. (This is good; we'd like to ForgiveAndForget) The security requirement isn't really all that important normally, but without the possibility of accountability, people tend to do silly things in my view. It's just like the possible embarrassment of being caught keeps you out of your neighbour's yard. There are no serious consequences except for the social ones. That, I think, is a good CommunitySolution to keeping everyone behaving. Another good one is LimitTemptation. -- SunirShah
Let's collect these onto a page - I'll call it SoftSecurity.
Regarding the experiment on Wiki:CategorizedRecentChanges (CategoryFilteredRecentChanges), I've come to the conclusion that it shouldn't have been done in the first place. RecentChanges to me isn't as important as what's said. If changes were all important, then there'd be no point in storing content.
What the changes give you is a sense of what to look at next. But the whole point of a Wiki is that there is so much more to look at. It's deeper than the newest stuff.
One reason for the relative lack of interest may be that categories serve a different group of people than RecentChanges. Categories are most useful for finding the old forgotten pages that were not included in the roadmaps. RecentChanges is focused on novelty and current discussion. The categories are like a library, while RecentChanges is more like a discussion group. -- CliffordAdams
Are there examples of Wikis that don't employ a RecentChanges scheme? What, I wonder, would be the effect on a Wiki community if there were no RecentChanges? For example, consider a Wiki that had no RecentChanges but permitted an individual to sign up a page (preferably their home page) as a "subscriber" to another page. The list of subscriptions would be dated and sorted by order of most recent modification. How would the dynamics and structure of such a community differ from current Wikis? What would be the benefits? What would be the cost? -- anon
Wiki:CommonLispWiki  does not have automated RecentChanges. Instead it relies on people to update the changes list manually. You mainly lose quick PeerReview. I think the pace of the wiki would also slow down, with peer interactions being more like chance encounters on the road. [The Politizen wiki started without a RecentChanges function, but soon added PolitizenWiki?:list which is is essentially the same.]
As of 14 May 2000 that's no longer true; we now have an automated list. It'll be interesting to watch http://ww.telent.net/cliki/Recent%20Changes for the next few weeks and see what difference it makes after the novelty has worn off. Observed so far: the 'edit' page template now asks for a change summary and author name (which it turns into a link), so we're seeing a lot of new "Person" pages.
One potential problem with "SubscribedChanges" is the inability to track new and interesting pages not related to your existing set. RecentChanges' method is to flood you with all new pages, forcing you to pick and choose. Another solution would to rely on editors, publishers and a limited broadcast pipe (i.e. advertising). See ViewPoint, RatingGroups for more on this
As a RecentChangesJunkie, I have my browser set to tell me when RecentChanges changes. What annoys me is that this not only happens for actual changes, but when a change becomes old enough to fall off the page. It would be great if pages only dropped off when a new one was added, so I could spare myself those extra spikes of adrenaline about new pages. One way this would work would be if the RecentChanges script displayed a month of changes, not from now, but from the most recent change. --- ChrisPurcell
Would RecentViews? represent a more reader-centric window onto the database?