PlagSpotter Updates Interface, Improves Service

PlagSpotter LogoBack in November, I wrote a review of the new plagiarism-detection service PlagSpotter. At the time, PlagSpotter was aggressively trying to compete with Copyscape and become the premier system for detecting duplicate content on the Web.

However, in my tests, while there was definitely a lot to applaud PlagSpotter for and the company had certainly made a great deal of progress in a very short period of time, Copyscape simply came out ahead in terms of usability and accuracy, at least for most use cases.

That could have easily been the end of it, but it seems PlagSpotter took my review to heart. Earlier this week they announced the launch of a revamp of their service, aimed at improving design and functionality. Even more interesting, in their blog post announcing the upgrades, they cited my post directly and indicated that many of the changes were in response to it.

So, I decided to take a look at the revamped PlagSpotter and see how far it had come in the past two months. Most importantly, I decided to perform the same tests that I did last time so I could re-compare the new PlagSpotter to both it’s previous version and what its biggest competitor offers.

On that note, he’s a look at what’s new with PlagSpotter.

User Interface (UI) Improvements

The most noticeable change to PlagSpotter is that it has completely revamped its interface. Previously, PlagSpotter would not simply provide a list of results, but rather, would provided a bizarre screen where the original text would be displayed and highlighted, with a list of results on the right.

PlagSpotter Sample Match

This approach was interesting but difficult to use and limiting in that it the system didn’t provide a highlighted version of the matching page that you could show to prove the infringement.

However, that system is completely gone with a much more traditional list of found pages with percentages takes its place.

PlagSpotter Result

Best of all, when you click past those results, you’re taking to a Copyscape-style highlighted version of the original page and one that, according to PlagSpotter, is at least relatively permanent and can be sent to others.

Another PlagSpotter Result

All in all, the UI improvements are noticeable and dramatic. While I would appreciate a feature similar to Copyscape’s “Share This Page” that lets you copy a short URL to send to someone else, overall, the service is much more usable and on par with Copyscape and similar services in terms of functionality.

The only major problem I had with the UI was a bug where the results would finish but it wouldn’t show me the number of sources or let me scroll past the first ten. However, if I refreshed the page, it worked as designed.

The other minor gripes is that there was no way to sort results based on number of words found (just percent of matching content in the found page). But while some additional filtering options would have been nice, it’s not something yet found elsewhere.

Still, overall, I’m very pleased with the redesign of PlagSpotter and most of the problems are either easy to add or just relatively minor bugs. The service is already many times more useful than it was and either as good or better than its competitors.

Speed “Improvements”

Speed was one of the biggest complaints I had in my original review. The service felt slow, and cumbersome to use taking, at times, taking over 30 seconds to produce results.

Unfortunately, PlagSpotter didn’t really fix the speed issues. According to the company, CopyScape (and likely other plagiarism checkers) feel faster because they only check a matching URL completely after a user clicks on it. PlagSpotter says that they check each page fully before the user clicks it, requiring more time.

However, they did come up with a way to make PlagSpotter feel faster and that is to begin displaying results within seconds of submitting the URL to check.

Basically, after a brief pause, you’ll see the results page load up within a few seconds and a spinning wheel will let you know that it’s still working. You’ll see the matching percentages move up and, sometimes, the found pages will reorder. When the test is complete, you’ll be notified by a popup to check your results.

This move is similar to what the Houston airport did, where they they responded to complaints of baggage claim time by moving the baggage claim area farther away from the terminal.

While it’s certainly an improvement in that you aren’t just staring at an empty page for a long time, the delay is still about the same and it’s up to you to decide if the tradeoff of having the links processed is worthwhile.

Improved Matching

PlagSpotter claims to have improved its matching and to produce much better results. Though I’m likely going to do a separate test down the road with all-new works, to compare the new version of PlagSpotter against the previous, I needed to re-run the previous battery of tests and the results are below:

(Note: Only the results in the “PlagSpotter Old” category are from the previous test, all of the Copyscape results are also new. Also, unlike the previous test, both PlagSpotter and Copyscape had been provided the URLs prior to this test being run, meaning there is a possibility one or both could have prepared.)

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The test results, as you can see, were much closer with five out of the nine tests favoring PlagSpotter over even Copyscape Premium. PlagSpotter also consistently beat its own results, doing bettern in seven out of nine tests.

All in all, Plagspotter performed admirably and showed significant signs of improvement, beating Copyscape Premium in these tests. However, it’s worth noting that both sites did a good job finding the most important matches and, in most cases, the differences were in matches of lower importance.

Other Features

Finally, in addition to the other improvements, namely:

  1. New API: PlagSpotter introduced an API to allow others to interface with it as part of their applications and services.
  2. Email Notifications: Paying customers can choose when to get email notifications of new matches and can customize the alerts to tell them only if the duplicate content is higher than a certain percentage.
  3. Badges: As with similar services, you can download and install PlagSpotter badges on your site.

The API is definitely interesting, though it will have its power revealed when others put it to work. The email notifications are also useful but more ability to customize when alerts arrive would help.

The badges, however, are a waste of time. It’s not because PlagSpotter is a bad service or they’re bad badges, but the entire concept is pretty much a waste of time, including when Copyscape and others do it.

In addition to the above features, users on their highest-level plan, Guru, which costs $50 per month, also get access to a weekly report that sees how the amount of plagiarism in a page changes day-to-day. Not particularly useful if you’re using it on a static page but it might have some use if you’re scanning something dynamic.

Finally, PlagSpotter said it is planning on and working on a batch feature that will allow users to check many URLs at once. It hopes to have that feature launched soon.

Bottom Line

The improvements in PlagSpotter are self-evident. It has a better UI, it does better overall when it comes to finding matches and is generally more useful for its intended purpose.

For me, it went from being a capable also-ran plagiarism checker that was very useful in many situations to becoming a frontrunner or at least a competitor for that.

Though the race between them and Copyscape on who has the best matches is two close to call, both seemed to do well finding the most important matches and it now comes down more to which service do you prefer and which better fits your needs/budget.

Though PlagSpotter is still slower than Copyscape, the tradeoff may be worth it for you and it also has a great interface and, depending on your needs, its plans may work out better for you.

If you’re just looking to do a quick plagiarism check (especially a free one), though there’s little reason not to use both, I’d recommend starting with PlagSpotter. For automatic and regular checks, just weigh the options and decide what’s right for you.

Personally, for my checks, I’m going to spend some time running PlagSpotter concurrently with Copyscape to see who produces the best matches and has the best service over the long haul. At the very least, PlagSpotter has made this race a lot closer and now deserves a bigger shot.

It looks like 2013 is going to be a very interesting year for this field and I’m looking forward to seeing how Copyscape (and others) answer the improvements at Plagspotter.

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