Update: So Gary Price at Search Engine Watch has given this article huge link love, and that’s probably why you’re here. I’ll be posting an interview I did with Gary later today (1/4) over at the blog of Net Squared. We talked about the same subject of this post, as well as RSS, teaching search and how ResourceShelf is maintained.
Ok, so every once in awhile I come upon a web page that 1. doesn’t change very often 2. doesn’t offer an RSS feed and 3. I want notification from any time the page changes. Most recently this has been like pages that say “this service is not accepting new accounts right now. we hope to reopen the service to new accounts when we get more servers.” Or, some time ago I was hired by someone concerned about the expansion of a nationwide retailer competing with them and I wanted to know of any little change made to the company’s List of Stores around the country. All too often I find press releases or calender entries on sites that have no RSS feeds and bad link structure, and are thus unscrapable by FeedFire.com. The following works for things like that too.
So, what can you do in such circumstances? You can set up an account with a web site monitoring service. But which one should you use? I found the following via the excellent site Fagan Finder’s URL Info, a boatload of site analysis tools.
Here’s my reviews:
Watch That Page
Offers email notification of changes that have occurred, will send changed text itself or notify you of broken pages. Can be sent daily or weekly at a set time. Offers a bookmarklet you can click on to add any page to your list of pages monitored. Will filter for certain words, but appears to only work across all pages or none, not for particular pages. Basic use is free, but they ask for a $20 donation for priority and professional use. No native support for RSS, but if you could use the following options: 1. an email to receive the notifications that offers RSS feeds of the inbox (GMail does this) or 2. Have the notifications sent to MailFeed. I know that RSS is the only way I’d want to receive any substantial number of these notifications!
So the good news about WatchThatPage is that it will send you the actual text that has changed. This is a widely used service that seems pretty darned reliable.
This site is old-school. It only notifies you that things have changed instead of delivering the change to you. It’s targeted towards web masters who want to add a “get email when this page changes” button on one of their pages. Don’t do that. You can do the same thing and lots more with WatchThatPage.
The one advantage to this is that it is very, very easy to use. You don’t have to create an account. You just tell it what URL you want monitored and what email to send notification of any changes to. This could make it nice for some purposes, and I have used it when I was too lazy to go to the trouble of signing in to other services that I forget my username and pw for. But I always end up unsatisfied that I’m not told what it is on a page that has changed.
This service does send the actual changed text, which is key. There is a bookmarklet here too. Registration is very, very easy. Just an email and a new password twice. There is also an interesting feature that supports customization for sending change notification to email lists! While I don’t encourage the use of email lists (RSS is way better) it’s a fact of life that many people still use them. After giving it a close look for the first time in awhile, I think this is a really good service.
Bookmarklet, keyword inclusion and exclusion filtering and best of all – the whole page sent to you with the changed content highlighted in color! Nice! Other options are available too. This is by far the most professional looking service of those reviewed here. A free account is limited to monitoring 5 pages and only checks once per day at most. Now I got pretty excited when I saw that hourly checking for changes was an option. Then I saw that hourly checks were an option for paid users. Then I found out that “Hourly Watch Packages being launched soon – SPECIAL Promotions for folks who express their interest before the launch. Do so now (link to email).” And guess what? That’s what this page on the site said 3 years ago! The wonderful Internet Archive is made for checking up on claims like this (“coming soon!”).
One way or the other, I think TrackEngine still looks like one of the best services available if there are very few pages you anticipate tracking. The color coded highlighting of changes is pretty hard to resist!
Conclusion: Here’s what I’d do. If I was only very rarely finding a page that I really wanted to track changes to, and that is the case for me, then I’d probably sign up with TrackEngine. But both ChangeNotes and WatchThatPage are pretty fair options, and are a better idea if you might end up tracking more than 5 pages. For some of my clients I’m going to subscribe to, for example, antiquated events calenders that don’t have RSS feeds, have the change notification sent to MailFeed and then plop that feed in with the other feeds I’m subscribed to.
Final note: Bandwidth, storage, computing power – these are all things that are way cheaper today than they were 3 to 5 years ago when these services were the hot new thing. The technological changes have opened up a world of possibilities – that’s a big part of Web 2.0. So why, oh why then is no one offering me a service that checks hourly for changes to a web page? I’ve been told by some folks that anything online that’s worth looking at has an RSS feed now. I don’t agree, though I understand the cynicism.
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