Now I know what you are thinking(see a pattern, I must be a mind reader),
“Geeze, thanks for wasting my time, I already know how to use bookmarks, thanks.”
And I am sure you do know how, but do you know that there are services out there, that can track when a webpage changes, and will alert you of the change. Yes that is right, no need to keep refreshing, no need to worry about your F5 key breaking or mouse button cracking from overuse.
How these services work
First thing we will take a site that probably everyone who has been active in contests for a while has seen at least once, the AndroidAuthority Giveaways Page (where they post new Giveaways):
What these services do is capture the page, and then every x minutes/hours/whatever, grabs a new copy and does a comparison. If there are changes, it will alert you. Some will let you set the frequency of the checks and some the amount that changed. But here is the real test…
You see that main part that says “Giveaways Most Recent”?
This is where any new contest will be posted. Now there are a bunch of tools that will monitor the site, but they don’t let you select a specific area, so anytime there is an ad that changes to another, PING you have an alert of a change. Here is an example of what I mean:
(image created using the service Visualping)
Now for some giveaways, this isn’t an issue, jane.com/giveaways doesn’t have ads, so if you set it to only alert you on medium changes (so something other than days left, total entries, etc. changing) it would work fine, but for other sites we need something better.
The something better includes other tools, like an extension for firefox and chrome called distill.io that will let you select just the areas you want to monitor. They have two different flavors, a cloud monitor, that will run on their servers, and has a pricing option that lets you pay for more frequent checks (free is limited to every 6 hours) as well as alerting your cellphone and/or email when changes are found. They also have an Android and iPhone app in development, unclear if they will be free or not.
Today’s guide will focus on setting up the distill.io add-on in firefox (the chrome and opera extensions are virtually identical after the install) but first we will work on setting up the web monitor, just incase you want to go that route.
Setting up the web Monitor
The first thing you will do is navigate to the distill.io homepage and create an account. It is a pretty straightforward process and if you can’t figure it out, the rest of this guide is going to right over your head.
After you create your account and login you will be taken to your watchlist page, that by default will have no watchers and look something like this:
Now the fun begins of adding items to be watched. The web version is limited to 5 in the free version, but the browser addon allows unlimited.
First click on the green button on the left that says “Add”, you will see a popup appear like the following image:
I’ll briefly explain the other options, but for this tutorials purposes we are going to focus on the first open Webpage.
- Feed, refers to RSS feed, which is a technology that some sites support that is a special link that will update when there is new contest, but does not require you to view the actual web page. This option allows you to enter an RSS Feed, and whenever it is updated, (and a check is performed) it will send you an alert.
- PDF is if you link to a PDF on the web anytime it is updated, it will let you know.
- XML stands for Extensible Markup Language, is a technology that is used for presenting data, it is similar to rss feeds in that when the data in the link changes, it will let you know.
Now for what really matters, Webpage, if we click on this link we will find it opening a new form giving instructions on how we are able to create a watcher either as a bookmarklet or a remote browser, I’ll be using the bookmarklet for this explanation, but if there is enough demand for explaining the remote browser I can add that as well.
If you look t the image above, under the bookmarklet section, you will see a link, if you click and drag it up to your bookmarks toolbar, so it looks something like this:
Now we will open up a new tab, and navigate to androidauthority.com/giveaways (link auto opens in new tab). Once there we will click on that new bookmarklet we created, and you will find a bar at the bottom right of your browser with controls like this:
If this is showing up, and that first item has the pause icon next to Select Elements, that means we have successfully activated element selection mode. If you move your mouse around the page, you will find black boxes highlighting around different parts of the page, this is a hover effect showing the element you are currently selecting in, the selection does not lock in until you click with your mouse. We wll want the column on the left side that contains the recent giveaways so it will in the end loo something like this:
To get this exact element, I move my mouse between the most recent contest listed, and the one below it, this image shows where I place my mouse:
After you click on it, you will notice at the top of the selected element, there is a black box with a > arrow, if you click this it will extend into a control bar that lets you expand the selection, to the element that your currently selected element is in, or narrow your selection, to include less the first element inside your current selection, or if you click the wrong thing, the trash can which means delete your selection and you can select something else.
If there are elements inside your selection you want to ignore, you can click on them and a red box will surround them, meaning any changes within that area will be ignored. Sadly you cannot ignore the number of comments on AndroidAuthority, because of the way the site is designed, without ignoring the entire contest post.
After you have narrowed your selection to include just the area that you want to track, you will go down to that control bar on the bottom right and click Save Selection, this will open up a new window that has some options you can tweak/set:
The first setting is the website that you are monitoring, known as the Source, you can hit Open Selector, if you need to modify the Elements it is monitroing.
If you have a paid account, you can sync your monitors, so that if one device finds a match, it will alert your other devices/browsers. Since we have a free account and this is the cloud monitor we are limited to Web Monitor
Name refers to what the name of the watcher is, if a change is detected, this will help you identify what site the change was detected on.
Schedule is how often you want the monitor to run, the frequency is limited by the account type you have, according to the pricing page, Free is limited to every 6 hours.
Actions determines what happens when a change is found, by default it will send push notification to your phone (if your plan tier allows it) and send an email. The Free Plan is limited to 30 emails a month.
Conditions allows you to set deeper rules, such as certain text has to be added in the change for it to count, or if a number changes, it has to increase or decrease this amount to trigger the alert.
After we configure the settings to our liking, we will hit Save, and it will return us the webpage for Android Authority.
If we head back to the tab with our watchlist, and close out of that form mentioning the bookmarklet, we will find that there is now an item listed for our new Watcher:
To go over this new bar quickly, we have a check box, where if we had multiple watchers, we could use to apply the same action to multiple ones at once. Then we have a down arrow, which gets you a sub menu, such as duplicating/cloning the watcher, editing the options we just set at the last step, quickly adding/editing/removing actions, and deleting the watcher. Then we have a link to the page we are watching, followed by a brief look at what the section being watched contained last time the watcher task was run. Then we have another drop down, that will show the currently monitored section along with a few other things, I will go into detail about this in the next part of this guide. The last few are the current schedule, which if you click on the text, we can modify the frequency, followed by an icon for the device the service is running on, and an on and off button.
Because the web monitor is extremely limited at the free tier, I recommend playing around with the 14 free trial of the paid plan that it comes with, but then looking into using the add-on extension, unless you want to pay.
To Be Cotninued
Due to time constraints, I have had to split this part of the guide into parts A and B, be on the lookout for Part 2b sometime in the next couple of days. This will contain how to understand and view the alerts, as well as installing the add-on/extension and configuring it as well as some suggested sites to monitor and what to monitor 🙂 I will also lift off a few alternatives to distill.io including ones for your phones.
I hope this has been a good starting point, and will help you find some great contests using this method.
Part 2b Coming Soon!