December 8, 2008
File under “Wow”: Adobe is working on an application called Zoetrope that allows you to quickly flip through archived web pages like you flip through pictures in iPhoto.
Google’s cache has nothing on this. Basically it turns the isolated snapshots of the web we usually see into an evolving movie. What’s more, it’s got a feature-rich set of tools (all visually oriented) that lets you play with, reshape, and visualize what you find. The video showing it off is pretty amazing.
So you can:
1) See how web pages change over time;
2) Isolate just some data or images from those web pages;
3) Do statistical correlations from that data;
4) Plot it to another app.
The developers have a shortlist of possible applications:
A user can peer back in time through Zoetrope in several ways. Simply pulling a scrollbar at the bottom of the browser winds a Web page back to show what it looked like hours, days, or months ago. Or, if the user is interested in one specific piece of information, like the price of a certain product, he or she can draw a “lens” over that area of the page to see how it changes.
An experienced user can perform even more-advanced analysis. For example, configured correctly, Zoetrope will recognize a price as it goes up or down and will show the results as a graph. It’s also possible to draw lenses on different websites and sync them in order to carry out a historical comparison. For example, a user could use one lens to track weather information and another lens to track movie-attendance figures. Looking at how both lenses change over time might reveal a correlation between bad weather and high movie turnout. Zoetrope can also track some pieces of data as they move about a page over time.
I can see this being a great tool for journalists, academics, insomniacs, etc. But it seems to me that the biggest asset of Zoetrope would be its capacity for play, for serendipitous discovery. Naming it after one of the great old-timey child’s toys is just one more stroke of genius.