Adobe researchers have constructed a time machine that lets you view any web page over time, scrolling to see changes in data. But the Zoetrope software that lets you watch pricing or news-story changes over time has even headier magic powers, too.
Not to be confused with Sony's giant actual zoetrope, Adobe's Zoetrope, which was co-developed by people at the University of Washington, is more of a metaphorical movie maker, says Technology Review: You load a web page then drag a slider from present into the past. As you use Zoetrope with, say, a major news site, it changes—dates go backwards, the price of oil goes up (then back down again), George Bush looks younger and more confident, etc.
My favourite aspect is the "time lens," which lets you time-shift just a portion of the webpage. A great example would be the price of a TV or Blu-ray player on Amazon.com. As you slide, you see the price go up and up. Tracking price changes is a big part of this technology.
But for brainier people, there's a whole lot more you can do, since the tool also allows two web pages to be tracked at the same time. For instance, you can open a weather page and a traffic page, and scroll backwards, watching how traffic patterns are affected by variations in the weather. You can also tie the oil-price page with an international news page, and see if there's any correlation between peaks of strife in the Middle East, and peaks of oil prices in the days following them.
When tracking numerical values such as pricing, the Zoetrope tool is capable of generating graphs of the data, so if you want to know when to buy a TV, you can look at a graph of historical data to show trends, much like how investors today use stock charts.
The software is still in the early stages, so don't expect a browser plug-in anytime soon. Also, if you're wondering how they're going to index the entire world wide web for this, the answer is, they aren't even going to try. They're going to focus on sites in categories like those above. After all, if you need a time machine to watch the Gizmodo home page zip by, you are doing too much of one thing, and not enough of another.