14 Page Monitors

Class News

Before class, Prof. Moore mentioned that the “Yahoo guy” will be coming sometime during November to speak to the class. All you need to know about this guy is that he’s very nice and very loaded ($$). It should be an interesting class, so get excited! Also, you should check out the What This Class is About page (that page with the web-like diagram on it) to see where we’ve been so far and where we’re headed. We’ve covered a lot so far, but we still need to go over the “Specialized Tools” section. To see exactly what topics remain, take a look at the “rest of the schedule” section on the BIT 330 homepage (it’s located right under the schedule). Finally, check out Dylan Burkhardt’s update on Google and get ready for my update on image search for next class.

Quick Review of Last Class

Prof. Moore quickly ran through the two different types of email alerts: site-based & search-based. Site-based email alerts are most commonly used for websites that don’t have RSS feeds. Search-based email alerts would be used in the event that some information isn’t site-based. Page monitors, the topic of today’s class, are used when some information is too fine-grained to be covered by RSS feeds. Take a look at Prof. Moore’s notes and the following diagram to try and make sense of it all:


The Basics

Page monitors are programs, either downloadable or web-based, that download specific web pages in order to notify you what, if anything, has changed since the last download. Basically the program will download a specific URL, compare it to a previous copy of that same URL, and proceed to send you an email alert if there are differences between the two. Obviously you specify the URL to be tracked, but you can also set how often the page monitor checks for different versions (i.e. daily, weekly, monthly). Some page monitors simply notify you that a page has changed, while others will actually highlight the differences. Page monitors have been around for several years now and are pretty straight forward to use at this point.

One of the better page monitors out there is WatchThatPage.com. Of course this is an example of a web-based page monitor. WTP, like all page monitors, automatically tells you if a web page, or part of a webpage, has changed. WTP is particularly useful since you can have the results delivered by email, an RSS feed, or a web-based summary. Prof. Moore demonstrated some of the useful ways that WTP can be used:

  1. Track company press releases
  2. Track new job postings (i.e. Ross company database)
  3. Find out when a new product is released (i.e. new Canon camera at Best Buy)
  4. Track software updates (i.e. Microsoft Vista update page)

The opportunities are endless, so you should play around with page monitors in your spare time and see how they can make information-gathering more convenient for you. Just a reminder though, there’s really no point in using a page monitor if an RSS feed is available on a particular web page.


Yahoo! Pipes is another interesting tool that Prof. Moore demonstrated to the class. According to Yahoo!, Pipes “is a powerful composition tool to aggregate, manipulate, and mashup content from around the web.” Pipes can be used be to do the following:

  • Combine many feeds into one, then sort, filter and translate it
  • Geocode your favorite feeds and browse the items on an interactive map
  • Power widgets/badges on your web site
  • Grab the output of any Pipes as RSS, JSON, KML, and other formats

Using Pipes may seem complicated at a glance, but it’s really quite intuitive. Just remember that “fetch feed” is the URL(s) that you get the feed from and “union” connects these feeds. You can then subscribe from the Pipes output on Bloglines and the result will look like just like any other page.

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