While I’m no expert on such things, I definitely consider myself something of a “serious amateur” when it comes to Internet data mining and on finding the best ways to tease useful data out of the vast ocean of information out there on the web– especially as it relates to career and job search applications.

On this note, there’s a little-known type of online tool that many of you might not yet have come across, but that could potentially play a useful role in your job hunting efforts if you acquaint yourself with one of these applications to a certain degree.  These tools are known colloquially as “page change detectors” and basically, all they do is monitor a certain web page (or 2, or 20, or 200) that you designate out in cyberspace, notifying you (via e-mail or other means) immediately if the content on the page changes for any reason.

The usefulness of such a tool?  Well, for starters, many companies (especially small-to-mid-sized ones) still have “manual” or “static” employment pages on their websites, versus the more sophisticated systems that bigger companies purchase from third-party providers.  As a case in point, visit the career pages of the employers Adobe and Avanade by clicking here and here, respectively.  You’ll note that their job search interfaces look almost identical, due to the fact that both companies license a third-party application called Taleo to manage their job listings and application process.  This system (like most of the sophisticated ones) comes with a built-in ability for candidates to save their search criteria and create “job agents” that automatically alert them if/when a suitable new opportunity gets added to the site.  So page detection tools don’t really add much, in this scenario.

The employment pages of smaller companies, however, don’t usually offer this feature.  Check out the hiring pages for a sampling of companies such as CSG Openline, KCTS Television, or Qualis Health by clicking here, here, or here.  As you’ll note, they’re much more basic.  There’s no real interface or search functionality involved — each company’s open positions are just listed manually, right there on the page, and are updated periodically by an admin or HR person at each company.  You therefore have to check these pages manually, time after time, to see if any new jobs happen to get listed.  That’s where a “page detector” program comes in.  You simply tell the detector to notify you if any of the text on the page in question changes, at any point, so you don’t have to worry about visiting the site repeatedly and sifting through the same old content over and over again.  One could also use these types of programs to monitor other web pages for specific companies of interest, to see if the information changes, such as finding out if any key executives get added (or deleted) on the “About Us” page of a website or if any new offices get opened up on the “Locations” page, that sort of thing.

As far as which page detector program to use?  The good news is there are plenty of different options available, and most of them are absolutely free.  Among the more popular ones I’ve come across are:

FollowThatPage (http://www.followthatpage.com)
Page2RSS.com (http://page2rss.com)
WatchThatPage (http://www.watchthatpage.com)

Additionally, if you already use Google Reader to follow blogs and news feeds, there’s a new feature you can read about here that allows you to program “page detection” functionality directly into your existing subscription list.  And for users of the Firefox web browser, there’s an add-on program (here) that does the same thing for that platform, as well.  As I said, the sky’s the limit and there are all kinds of options, so just play with each program and pick your favorite.

In closing, while page detector tools certainly aren’t a must-have resource for every job seeker, they can be handy, at times, since they fill a small but important gap between sites like Google Alerts and the built-in alert functions of sites like Indeed.com, Simplyhired.com, and some of the high-end job posting systems like Taleo.  So take a moment or two to familiarize yourself with them.  You might never decide to use one, but they’re a great little tool to have tucked away in your back pocket if the need should ever arise!