Startup QA-eye detects Web site errors and hackers

Brendan Seabrook may be an Aussie expat working in Toronto but theproblem he’s trying to solve is a universal one: finding an easier,faster way to monitor quality control on Web sites.
Although technology has been developed to solve myriad problems on theWeb, checking Web sites for design and contentdelivery flaws is still a human task, for the most part. It’s aquandary Seabrook knows firsthand in his current job as a Web developerat TorstarDigital.

His startup firm, QA-eye, endeavours to provide asolution.

QA-eye’s entry into The $1,000 Minute.

“It was born out of my personal necessity to find software to help mefind these (Web site) bugs,” says Seabrook, who moved from his nativeMelbourne to Toronto two years ago.

With no technology on the market to simplify the process, Web sitequality assurance is a time consuming task – and one that can sometimesresult in unpleasant surprises for Web site managers and owners.

“At the moment it’s just visually eyeballing every (Web) page. It justtakes too much human time,” Seabrook says. “(Web site managers) onlywork eight hours a day so it’s not a very vigilant process. The nextbest solution is to wait until the customer notices and complains. Thethird option is to have some sort of customer feedback area on a site,and wait until they notice and complain.”

QA-eye is developing Web-based software that takes a snapshot – calleda baseline — of each page on a Web site. The system automaticallytakes further periodic snapshots of those Web pages as time passes,then visually compares their layout and design against the baselinesnapshots taken earlier. If there are visual discrepancies between thebaseline versions and newer snapshots, a report is automaticallygenerated to notify the Web site’s manager and owner.

The system can be programmed to skip over any valid layout changes thata Web site’s owner and manager intend to make while regularly updatingthe site’s content and design.

Web site managers can use the system to make sure sites are laid out toclient specifications, to find design glitches that pop up on existingsites, and also to detect when a site has been hacked or otherwise tampered with.

“So you know a site’s been broken (into) before your client does.That’s gonna really help people with their business reputation,”Seabrook says. “Some hackers deliberately target sites overnight and onweekends because the human element takes time to notice. An automatedsystem like ours doesn’t suffer from this problem and we can alert theadministrators in minutes rather than hours or days.”

It’s a tricky fix to automate, since content (and therefore designelements) can change constantly on high traffic Web sites.

“The problem is, no content is created equal…The make-or-break is goingto be false positives,” Seabrook acknowledges, noting that the firstprototype of QA-eye wasn’t entirely a home run because it didn’t takeinto account as many valid design and layout changes as you’d findhappening on a high traffic site.

QA-eye is working on a second prototype to factor in those variations.The first prototype was built during the recent StartupWeekend Toronto event, where tech entrepreneurs had onlythree days to meet for the first time, form instant teams and pitchtheir startup ideas to a panel of judges.

Although Seabrook’s sole teammate from Startup Weekend has decided tomove on from the project, Seabrook has recruited three new people towork on QA-eye with him. He confesses to feeling like a bit of a lonewolf that weekend because most of the pitches targeted consumer marketswhile his pitch is for a solution aimed at IT professionals.

“This targets a technology problem, not a human problem,” he says.“With all the other pitches the audience is people that use theInternet whereas this targets departments in Web development shops, sothat’s a narrow market. It’s hard to make it sexy.”

QA-eye is just one of the startups that have entered’s$1,000 Minute ‘elevator pitch’ video contest.

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