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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Zoetrope: Visualizing Historical Web Data

The project Zoetrope is explored in Technology Review. A project from Adobe Systems and the University of Washington, it allows the user to take a look back at previous states of a web page to understand how information provided has varied over time. I have used the Internet Archive to find changes in corporate sites to show how their coverage of topics have changed over time. Can be means of archiving for a corporate historian or even competitive intelligence: what changes are your competitors making to their sites? Zoetrope does not yet look at the whole Web, but only a thousand frequently updated web sites.

Based on the included video you can use a set of 'lenses' to link together data on a page as it changes over time, then look at this data in a graphical window. It would make sense to link this capability to a BI visualization package so that you could build your own visualization methods. For example would like to trace the historical range of data, then have an alert occur when its value changed beyond some limits. The video does indicate that its data can be exported.

The resulting capability is a workbench for dealing with Internet archives as they change over time. It did come to mind that piecing together so many kinds of data from Web sources over time could lead to bogus results. The way numbers are calculated can often change, and these changes may be lost in the footnotes, if presented at all. Caution is required.

Zoetrope has not been released, and they say that their interface is evolving. Having it use the Internet Archive data also makes sense. Look forward to experimenting with Zoetrope. Academic paper.

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