I use a combination of automatic and manual methods to keep track of updates to programs. For most programs, I store a string describing the version number, and the URL it came from. Then I have software to run through all the sites about once a week, and look for a changed version string. Of course, this requires that the program’s web site does list the version, and if they edit the string or the page I get a ‘false positive’ indicating that the version may have changed, and I check the page manually.
On the big repositories this is usually easy, as they have a consistent page layout and usually describe the version number and release date. Though with the preponderance of dynamic content on web pages these days, it’s getting harder. There are sections that show and hide, and
sometimes the HTML that my auto-fetch program (basically a scripted wget) retrieves, is different than the HTML issued to my browser…not a fun issue to debug. Then there is the situation of the hosting site listing all the version numbers, leading to ‘false negatives’ – the string I’m searching for does exist on the page, just not in the first position. So I have to retrieve only the first, or one in a special heading or div, and I’ve written different software to analyze SourceForge pages, and GitHub, and Google Code. And of course they keep changing…it keeps me busy.
This caught me out in a major omission, where I neglected to update my entry for SPM, the major neuro image analysis package developed at University College, London. SPM is one of those plications where it’s almost a case of, if you need to ask, you don’t need it. SPM is one of the dominat software packages in functional neuroimaging, so everyone in the field at least knows about it. Still, everyone needs publicity, and so I list SPM and all the programs associated with it, and I thought I was listing its updates. But the URL I’d stored for SPM’s version number linked to SPM5, their 2005 release, and when the 2008 SPM release came out, on a different page, naturally the version string on the 2005 site remained.
And my site remained out of date until I recently had the pleasure of meeting the manager of SPM development at the Turku PET Symposium. He very politely pointed out that my listing for this major application was three years out of date! I’ve corrected the error now, and improved the listing. Hopefully I’m not listing too much more disinformation.