|Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
|Volume 10 Issue 1
|Do You Ever Wish You Could Be Notified When a Web Page Changes? Try FollowThatPage.com
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Have you ever looked at a web page that was probably going to change or expand or evolve in the future and wished you had the time to come back periodically and see those changes? For example:
You could certainly go back and periodically re-read all of the web pages you're interested in, looking for changes, but that's not only time-consuming, it's also likely that most of the time you'll find that nothing has changed. Instead, wouldn't it be so much more convenient if there were a service that could simply do the work for you, i.e., look at those pages on a regular schedule without taking up any of your time, and then when any of them has changed, not only notify you that something changed, but also tell you specifically what changed?
- An item for sale on an online store: You wish you could monitor whether the price goes up or down, or if new styles or colors become available.
- A list of meeting dates for an organization you belong to: You wish you could learn about new events as far in advance as possible so you can make time for them on your calendar.
- An article or blog on an interesting topic with an ongoing discussion: You wish you could learn about new comments or changes when they're posted.
- A web page that displays the status of an ongoing lawsuit or election results or ballot questions: You wish you could be notified when a new development is posted.
- A product that you rely on in your work: You wish you could monitor its online description in case its requirements or availability changes.
Some web sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter (to a certain degree), as well as many blogs and discussion sites do have built-in functions to "follow this item or discussion" or "email me when this changes," but most web sites don't.
One online service I've found that does this very well is http://www.FollowThatPage.com which describes itself as "a change detection and notification service that sends you an email when your favourite web pages have changed." I've been using it for a number of years now, and I recommend it.
In order to use FollowThatPage.com you first have to register with them, supplying an email address and picking an account password. Free accounts can monitor up to 20 web pages each day (plus 1 per hour), and paid Pro accounts can monitor up to 1,000 pages each day (plus 20 per hour and 100 per week) and also get other premium features.
Monitoring a web page is a simple process to start: You enter the address of that web page (I recommend Copy-and-Paste to be sure it's correct) and an optional Description (useful when the address alone doesn't remind you what it is or why you're monitoring it), and then click Save. There are number of additional things you can adjust, including having it monitor only a portion of the text on the page.
That's it! Now, once each day (or on whatever schedule you've chosen) it will compare the text on that web page to what it saw the previous time, and send you an email if anything has changed that shows you exactly what text has changed, been added, or removed.
FollowThatPage has a few overall limitations:
Free accounts have a few more limitations:
- It only monitors individual web pages, not entire web sites. To follow two pages on the same web site, you would create two separate entries.
- It only reports changes to the text displayed on a web page. It does not monitor the pictures, fonts, layout, metadata, or raw HTML.
- It can only monitor web pages that are publicly visible to anyone. It can't monitor pages that are only visible after signing in with a password. For example, you could use FollowThatPage to monitor the Walt Disney Company's share price at a public page like http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=DIS that provides stock quotes, but you can't use it to monitor the value of the holdings in your own Fidelity account, since access to that requires a password. (If this idea interests you, you should check Fidelity.com to see if it has its own monitoring or "alert" or email-notification feature.)
- Since it doesn't use your computer to check the web pages you're following, it won't have access to any of your web browser's cookies, so it can't follow web pages whose accessibility or display depend on your particular cookies.
- If the design of a web page changes, you may have to adjust your FollowThatPage settings. Some web pages are just too complicated (or their design changes too often) to use FollowThatPage effectively.
- It can't follow a web page that has been moved to a different address. However, it will report any errors it encounters trying to load a web page, so you can learn if a page is offline or unavailable. These errors often clear up by the next day, so I wouldn't get concerned unless it reports a page as offline for a number of days in a row.
- You can't control what time of day the daily check runs. Pro accounts can specify the hour.
- It may report Dutch text instead of English (or your particular language). Why? Based on your location, your web browser tells the web sites that you visit what language you (probably) speak, and more sophisticated sites use that information to display their text in that language. Since the FollowThatPage servers are in the Netherlands, such web sites will naturally conclude that your language is Dutch. Pro accounts can specify the U.S. as the virtual browser location. (You can get also around this problem if the given web site has a qualifier that you can add to the page's address that specifies the language of your choice, e.g., English.)
Here are some additional ways that you might find FollowThatPage useful:
Other tools that monitor web pages
- If you have your own web site, you could use it to monitor your home page (or any other page). This can serve as an inexpensive notice of that page getting changed (which might confirm a change you were expecting, or notify you of an unauthorized one, which might indicate that your site has been hacked), as well as your site going offline.
- You could use it to monitor a web page where you're expecting something to change or update or renew, like your web site's domain registration.
- If you run your own business, you could use it to monitor your colleagues' and competitors' web sites.
- If there is some IRS topic that you want to monitor, their site has a function to search their News and Archive. For example, I'm interested in the "standard mileage rate" (which relates to deductible car expenses), so here's the address that I use to monitor articles on that topic: http://apps.irs.gov/app/picklist/list/newsReleases.html?value=standard+mileage+rates&criteria=title&submitSearch=Find
- Instead of subscribing to my Newsletter, you could monitor the Newsletter page on my website for changes.
There are a number of other ways to monitor changes to specific web pages. See the links below for some sites that list quite a number of tools. In general they fall into 3 categories:
Remember that an online service that tracks changes to a web site will run on their computers (not yours), but a browser plug-in or application that you might download for this purpose can only run when your computer is on and that web browser or application is running. On the upside, a browser plug-in to monitor web pages for changes would have access to your cookies and might also be able to access pages where you have signed in recently with a password.
- Online services (similar to FollowThatPage.com),
- Web browser plug-ins, which are small pieces of software, usually free, that install into your web browser, and
- Regular computer programs (applications) that run on your computer.
Where to go from here
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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.