A new prototype Internet Explorer add-on from Microsoft Research called “Diff-IE” adds a little bit of version control magic to your browser, showing you exactly what has changed on the increasingly dynamic web. Perfect for people who refresh websites every other minute like myself.
This simple but ingenious plugin caches multiple copies of websites you open (by default, last five visits) and on subsequent visits compares the contents and highlights any changed text elements. Optionally, you can also enable to save an image-cache of each visit which you can later view or compare side-by-side.
Until now, RSS and (more recently) Twitter feeds has become the status-quo for keeping up-to-date with websites, but unfortunately they take you out of the website’s experience. Although not applicable to all sites, an enhancement to a browser like this makes much more sense for sites and forums whose content evolves rather than change completely.
In a test conducted with 30 users over a month, the researchers’ found their tool had a positive effect on revisitation patterns and perception of web content. They also noted “some participants reported the highlighting had become an indispensable part of their browsing”.
Personally I think the idea could very well make its way inside Internet Explorer if made a bit more subtle, for example, gradually fading out the highlight after it has been seen.