If you regularly visit web pages looking for new or updated information, you’ll save countless hours by automating the process with software that tracks changes for you — even while you sleep.
Let’s face it — the web is constantly changing, with new content being added and old content being moved or deleted at a pace that even search engines can’t keep up with.
If you have a set of pages that you monitor regularly for new content, software that tracks changes can be a godsend. These programs, variously called “page trackers,” “url monitors,” or other descriptive names, are constantly on the lookout for changes to web pages.
What kinds of pages would you monitor on a regular basis? Well, I’ve got my favorite program, WebSite-Watcher, set up to monitor all of the major search services’ press release pages. I also have it monitoring a number of weblogs that post frequently but on an irregular schedule. You can use them to monitor online forums, auctions, news sites — anything that changes frequently.
Page monitors can also be very useful competitive intelligence tools. In addition to press release pages, you can set up page trackers to notify you whenever new job notices, product updates, or any other kind of information offering potential business intelligence is posted to your competitors’ web sites.
Selecting pages to monitor is easy. Most programs allow you to add the page you’re currently viewing to the list of tracked pages. Many also allow you to import bookmarks.
With most of these services, you specify the kinds of changes you’d like to be notified about. New content? Many of these services highlight new or changed content on copies of the page.
For pages that change frequently, it’s better to check for a new date or timestamp on a web page, to avoid being inundated with alerts. You can also often indicate how frequently would you like to check for changes — anywhere from once a minute to longer intervals, such as a week or month, depending on the available options offered by the page tracking service.
When changes have been detected, the programs will notify you or send you an email alert. For web-based page tracking services, notification will be posted to a custom web page. Some of these services also let your readers sign up for alerts that go out any time you add content to your own web site.
The four web page monitoring services listed below each offer the same basic tracking features. Each also offers unique features that might fit your needs better than the others. Of the four, WebSite-Watcher is the most powerful; however, it is also desktop-based, so lacks the flexibility of the other services, which can be accessed via any Internet connected computer.
WebSite-Watcher allows you to monitor any number of websites for updates and changes with a minimum of time and online costs. When changes in a website are detected, WebSite-Watcher saves the last two versions to your hard disk and highlights all changes in the text.
Because WebSite-Watcher is a desktop utility, there is no risk that you might lose your page tracking should the company go out of business.
WebSite-Watcher is free to try for 30 days. Registration is $29.95 for personal use, $99 for corporate use. Requires Win95/98/Me/NT4/2000/XP; a language pack supporting more than 20 languages is available.
WatchThatPage gives you several options for how you want to monitor the Internet. You can get all the new content collected in one email, or separated into several emails to sort the information on different topics or importance. You can receive all changes, or just changes that match keywords you specify. You can get daily updates, or customize the updates to the weekdays of your choice.
WatchThatPage also offers a notification service for webmasters. Your visitors will get email alerts whenever you add new content to your webpages.
WatchThatPage is web-based, and free to individual users.
TrackEngine can alert you to specific events on any given webpage, using a process that’s just slightly more complex than saving and managing bookmarks. At any time, you may sign in to TrackEngine and manage your bookmarks online. You may edit the tracking parameters of selected bookmarks, or delete bookmarks which you no longer need.
TrackEngine is web-based and free to individuals, with several pricing options for businesses.
Use to consolidate your web site tracking into a single email digest. The digest groups and summarizes the changes in the sites you’re tracking. And when you need to, you can click through to a version of any of those pages to see all the changes since your last visit, highlighted and marked by InfoMinder.
InfoMinder is web-based, allows you to track only up to 100 web pages, and costs $24.95 per year.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication’s search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.