I want to know when content on certain webpages changes. For example, Zoom posts information about their software updates on their release notes page. If this were the 1990s, I wouldn’t mind popping over there every week or so to see if there was something new. But it’s 2022. I want someone to tell me when content has changed. Some newsfeed readers can handle the task, such as Inoreader, but I don’t find the process for setting it up particularly intuitive. Instead, let’s use a dedicated webpage monitoring service.
I don’t have a lot of webpages I want to check for updates. In fact, the only one I can think of right now is Zoom’s release notes, although Canvas release notes might be handy. There are a lot of webpage monitors out there. Most operate on the freemium model. They give you limited functionality for free. If you’d like more, you’ll need to pay a monthly fee. It’s not a bad way to do things. “Try us out. If you find what we offer useful, pay for more.”
Let’s try out distill.io. In their free version, they’ll monitor five webpages for us using their own servers (“cloud monitor”) or we can install their browser add-on and use our own computer to monitor up to 25 webpages (“local monitor”). This page describes the difference. Let’s try out the “local monitor” that uses a browser add-on; the “local monitor” will only run when your browser is open. They have extensions for Firefox (here), Chrome (here), and Opera (here). You do you. [At some point, distill.io will ask you to create an account. Go ahead and do that. They will not ask you for a credit card.]
Once the browser extension is installed, you’ll see the distill.io water droplet icon in the top right corner of your browser. If it’s solid gray like it is here, it’s not monitoring any webpages.
Visit a webpage you’d like to monitor, such as the Zoom release notes page. Click the distill.io droplet icon in your browser. In the popup, click “Select parts of page.”
The popup will disappear and a yellow note will appear at the top of the page assuring you that the “selector” is on and that you can click on an element. An element is just about anything on a webpage. In the case of the Zoom release notes pages, they have a “Last Updated” element, so I’m going to ask distill.io to monitor that. Distill.io will let me know if anything in that area changes. After clicking on the element you want, in the bottom right corner click “Save selection.”
Distill.io will then take you to their website, where you’ll get to make some decisions. At the top of the page, note the red warning. When you’re ready for the distill.io browser add-on to start monitoring your selected webpages, click on the distill.io water droplet icon, and click “ON”. But let’s make some changes first. Next to “Schedule checks,” move the slider to the interval you want. It defaults to some number of hours, but move the slider to whatever you’d like. You can go up to 29 days, and then never. I’m not sure why you’d select never, but you can if you’d like. Next, in the “Actions” section, you’ll tell distill.io how you’d like to be notified of any changes. Click the trashcan next to things you don’t want. I don’t want an audio notification, but I’ll take the popup and an email. Click “Add action” to see other ways to be notified. The actions with an asterisk are available only for paid subscribers. When you’re happy with your changes, click the blue “Save” button.
On your distill.io “Watchlist” page, you’ll see the page being monitored, the content being monitored, how often distill.io is checking on it (1 day), when a change was last detected (1:21pm today, when I set up monitoring), the computer monitor icon means it’s set up as a local monitor, and the green “ON” tells us distill.io is monitoring it. If you ever want to delete it, click the check box, and you’ll get a toolbar that includes a trashcan icon; click to delete.
Any time you want to pop into your Watchlist, click the distill.io droplet icon in the top right corner of your browser, and click “Go to Watchlist.”
That’s it! Now we sit and wait for Zoom to update their updates page.