The system is limited, however, by how much historical data is available. To test the tool, the researchers chose 1,000 frequently updated websites and stored information captured every hour over four months.
But for Zoetrope to cover the entire Web would mean capturing huge amounts of data, says Eytan Adar, a PhD student at the University of Washington who was involved with the research. He has investigated the rates at which people tend to check different pages for updates and says that such information could provide insights into how often pages need to be recorded, thereby reducing the amount of data that needs to be stored. “It’s impossible to crawl and capture some of these things at the rate at which they’re changing,” Adar says. “But for something like Zoetrope, it’s a smaller percentage of the Web that we want to track. We don’t actually need to get every single page that’s out there.”
Kris Carpenter, who directs efforts to record Web pages at the Internet Archive, is enthusiastic about the new tool. “This is a fantastic leap forward,” she says, adding that Zoetrope could be used as a stand-alone application or eventually become part of the browser. “The advances of the interface are phenomenal in terms of being able to navigate data in a very different way and associate it across websites,” Carpenter says. “I think most users have an interest in trying to connect the dots between different sources of information, but there are almost no tools available to make that an easy thing to do.” She adds that the Internet Archive is interested in sharing its data with the Zoetrope researchers.
Adobe’s Dontcheva says that before Zoetrope can be released, her team intends to develop additional features to make it simpler and more powerful to use. “The interface is still evolving,” she says.