Catch the Web with offline browser and collaboration service

A review of a tool that can capture and preserve entire Web pages for presentation and research purposes.

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Category: Offline browsing and presentation software
Name of tool: Catch The Web
Company name: Math Strategies/Catch The Web LLC
Price: Varies depending on the amount of storage used, starts at $75/month with first month free
URL: www.catchtheweb.com
Windows platforms supported: 95, 98, NT, 2000 with Internet Explorer
Quick description: A way to capture and preserve entire Web pages for presentation and research purposes.

Strom-meter:
*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool

Key features:

Pros:
Extremely easy and straightforward to use.
Captures all elements of Web pages, including graphics and scripts.
Captured files can be shared by multiple users.

Cons:
Player uses Active-X.

Description:

The Web changes every day, sometimes every minute, but sometimes you'd like to show your workgroup an older version of a page for comparison or other pedagogical purposes. You could use a screen capture tool like Snag-It, however a better solution is from Catch The Web.

Catch The Web uses an interesting combination of software and managed services. The company has been around for several years. In its early days, it had a software-only Web page capture tool that I liked to use for presentations when I wanted to show my audiences how particular Web pages looked at a moment in time. Screen capture tools aren't very good for this kind of thing, mainly because many Web pages occupy more than one screen, and you can't scroll down or across to see the rest of the page. That's what was handy about Catch The Web; the entire page would be preserved and you could move around it with ease.

Well, the company has taken its capturing prowess and extended it. You can now store your captured pages on its servers, and then play them back with a simple piece of software that connects to their Web site and sequences through the stored images. The capture process also works with whatever elements are included on the page: sounds, animations, JavaScript, the works. It is a great idea, and one that is tremendously useful if you need to do some research and examine the evolution of your Web site -- or your competitor's -- over time. It is also a good way to identify mistakes in page layout, when someone posts content to the Web that they shouldn't have, or to be able to document the state of things at a given moment in time.

When you install the client software, you get a push-pin icon on your desktray. When you have something on your screen or in your browser that you want to capture, you drag the icon to the active window and select your choice of how you want to save the information. You have three choices: You can save the entire page, including all HTML and graphics. You can just save the HTML text without the graphics. Or you can save the URL as a bookmark, in which case you won't save the actual content but its location.

In order to work with the software you need to set up an account to store your captured files. The amount of stuff you end up storing will determine your monthly fee, but the base price of $75/month includes 10 MB of storage. The nice thing is that there are no additional user fees or any other charges on top of this. Depending on the graphics on your captured pages, you could store several hundred Web pages in your 10 MB allotment, probably more than enough for most purposes.

Offline browsers used to be a big deal in the early days of the Web. But these software tools had all sorts of problems, including the fact that they created copies of pages on a single desktop and were hard to share around an enterprise. They also had lots of quirks and didn't really capture the wide variety of Web pages and elements very well. None of these issues are a problem with Catch The Web.

But even more importantly, Catch The Web has taken offline browsing a step further: once you store your pages, anyone with appropriate login credentials can access your pages via a special Web site that the company manages. You can create a variety of user logins limited to users who are just viewing your pages, or to those who can capture their own pages and add them to your site. Overall, the whole system is well thought out. Once you get used to working with the desktop software and the Web site (MyWebResearch.com), you will find that it is very quick and easy to build up a series of pages and organize them into a coherent presentation or a series of folders. You can also download a presentation and play it offline in case you don't have an active Internet connection but still want to show the fruits of your research. All in all, this is a very useful program and service, and one that is worth investigating further.

Strom-meter key:
**** = Very cool, very useful
*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool
** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.
* = Don't waste your time. Minimal real value.

Bio: David Strom is president of his own consulting firm in Port Washington, NY. He has tested hundreds of computer products over the past two decades working as a computer journalist, consultant, and corporate IT manager. Since 1995 he has written a weekly series of essays on web technologies and marketing called Web Informant. You can send him email at david@strom.com.


This was first published in August 2001

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