With InContext's WebAnalyzer, you can peek behind the scenes

Web site analysis seems to be hot right now, with several
companies introducing products to help Webmasters control their ever-expanding page
collections.


InContext WebAnalyzer for Microsoft Windows 95 deserved a look because of its price: At
$149, it could pay for itself by saving just a few hours of management time. After testing
it, I realized this tool could do much more than just save time--it gave me an overview of
GCN's Web pages that I'd never had before.


WebAnalyzer needn't run on a Web server. It can be launched from any client machine
attached to the Internet. You can analyze your own Web site from afar, and other sites,
too. That makes it a neat spy tool to see any site's layout. But you don't see anything
the managers haven't made public.


I started by pointing WebAnalyzer at GCN's main home page and asking it to check links,
which took about 20 minutes. While it ran through its cycle, I watched the results build
on a three-screen overview.


The program takes about four hours to run through the links at Web sites maintained by
Websys Inc. of Arlington, Va., for IRS and the General Services Administration. Websys was
an early adopter of WebAnalyzer.


The most interesting thing to watch in WebAnalyzer is the right-hand screen's map of
concentric circles. This is called the ""wavefront'' window, centered by the
starting uniform resource locator. Surrounding the URL icon are other icons representing
referenced images, application links, ""mail to'' links, audio and video files,
File Transfer Protocol connections and gopher links.


A question mark indicates unknown content. A red circle with a slash over an icon
indicates a bad link or missing image.


Besides checking the site for problems, the InContext program creates a detailed report
viewable with a Web browser. It contains hyperlinks to referenced items, shortcuts to
parent documents and thumbnails of images. You can set WebAnalyzer's Preferences file to
autolaunch one of four recognized browsers, or you can manually launch a different
browser.


If you need to make page changes, WebAnalyzer also will autolaunch a Web page authoring
tool--provided you have one on your system. With the company's separate InContext Spider
authoring software, you can drag and drop items to be edited.


The report generates nearly 30 Hypertext Markup Language pages of site statistics.
These include information on number of documents found; file sizes and types; a list of
broken links and missing images; a links-tested list for all documents, images, and calls
to other media like sound or video files; a links-to list that shows documents to which
the root page points; and a links-from list showing documents on your site that point back
to the root document.


Each found item has a description, a hyperlink to the actual Web page for viewing with
your browser and a button that takes you to a local copy of the page in case you asked
WebAnalyzer to store one on your computer.


The local copy option actually lets you store a complete copy of your site to carry on
a notebook computer so you can make changes away from your Internet connection.


If you want to see how any referenced item fits into the whole site, return to the
circular map and click on its icon. The left-side windows gives details on the image or
link. The link also is highlighted in a wide bottom window that shows all found items.
They can be sorted any way you want.


My one complaint about the software is that you can get lost in the report, because
it's so extensive. The hyperlinks bump you around from page to page, and you can't always
remember where you saw a rundown on a particular item.


WebAnalyzer is a viewing tool for managers, but it's not quite a management interface.
You can set it to autolaunch a browser and an authoring package, but it would be better to
see and work with any Common Gateway Interface scripts on your server. These are the small
programs that control the forms people use at your site, and they are a management issue
unto themselves.


Of course, for that kind of functionality you'd likely pay much more than $149.


It also would be neat if you could autolaunch your FTP program. Then you could find
problems, launch your authoring tool to make changes on the copy WebAnalyzer placed on
your own machine, and then place the updated copy back on the server.


WebAnalyzer gives you a broad overview of your site and its design, with a way to track
those pesky external links that can be so troublesome when someone changes the URL of a
document you've referenced. It does this job so well that it seems worth more than
InContext is asking.


InContext Corp., Toronto; tel. 301-571-9464


Price: $149


Overall grade: A


+ Site map screening by file type


+ Map zooming and mobility of window contents


+ Easy to get up and running


[--] Must open distributed servers separately to check aliases


[--] Some toolbar buttons not intuitive


[--] False negative readings from slowly responding external links


Real-life requirements:


Windows 95 PC and Web browser


About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.

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