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historical web search, University of Washington


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Zoetrope Searches the Historical Web

A browser is a window into the Web as it exists today. When you search for something online, you're getting today's results.

University of Washington Computer Science & Engineering Ph.D. student Eytan Adar and his colleagues at UW and Adobe Systems are grabbing hold and storing historical sites that users can easily search using an intuitive application called Zoetrope. (The Internet Archive has been capturing old versions of Web sites for years, but there is no easy and flexible way to search the archive.)

There are a variety of ways people might want to search the historical Internet. For example, to find a history of traffic patterns in the Seattle area, you'd have to sort through lengthy PDF files from the state Department of Transportation, Adar said. With Zoetrope, you could easily view past versions of any traffic Web site, and getting more specific, search for drive-times on Interstate 90 at 6 p.m. on rainy Fridays. Sports fanatics could use the program to check historical rankings of their favorite teams or players, information that currently may not be easy to find. The application can also be used to analyze historical data or link information from different sites; for example, Adar wondered whether air pollution conditions could affect the performance of Olympic athletes, so he used Zoetrope to find daily records of pollution levels in Beijing and the number of world records broken in the 2008 Olympics on each day, and looked to see whether fewer records were broken on days with high pollution levels.

"There are so many ways of finding and manipulating and visualizing data on what we call 'the today Web' that it's kind of amazing that there's no way to do anything similar to the ephemeral Web," said Dan Weld, a UW CSE professor who also worked on the application.

Eytan Adar, James Fogarty, Daniel S. Weld (University of Washington)
Mira Dontcheva (Adobe Systems)

Research support provided by:
University of Washington, Adobe Systems

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