Microsoft Research’s Diff-IE lets you play “spot the difference” with websites

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.

8 insightful thoughts

  1. Nice find!! Now only if it was a little more polished (no manifest theming and ugly gray UI!!).

    On a different note, I wish users played Diff-IE with IE versions and pointed out the uber dumbed down IE9 GUI and its flaws to the IE team. IE9 is so dumbed down, they might as well just created an HTA file that hosts the web browser control.

  2. Is there any way to just run it without seeing the toolbar? Hiding it seems to disable the plugin, and I really don’t need to have that “Compare to” thing visible all the time.

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