Tech by VICE

This Tool Turns Your Online Investigations into a Searchable Case File

Hunchly archives online research, even if a site is deleted.

by Joseph Cox
Apr 19 2016, 10:45am

Image: Shutterstock

Most journalists, researchers or other investigators have probably experienced this: You dig around websites, social media profiles, and dingy forums, only to come back later and find the content has been deleted or is no longer accessible. For investigations that rely primarily on stuff found online, regularly archiving content is crucial to building up an investigation.

Browser-based tool Hunchly aims to make that process much simpler by automatically creating local backups of every page visited during a session, and organising them into a searchable database for future reference.

"I created Hunchly to help compensate for the natural mistakes we make
when doing online research," Justin Seitz, Hunchly's creator, told me. (I first heard about the tool from Seitz as I'm a paying student on his Python course).

Screenshot of the author's demo Hunchly search overview

"Particularly, it is hard to continually take screenshots, or to have enough forethought that what we see today is important," Seitz continued. "Usually it is some period of time in the future when we realize that a social media profile, an image, or a website is important, and by the time we realize it, it can be too late."

Hunchly works as a Google Chrome extension. After installation, users can create a new "case," and then start their normal sleuthing. Every URL visited or Google search typed is stored locally on the machine, and users can call up full, archived versions of each piece of content. This applies even if the original version has been deleted, and the storage only happens when the user turns Hunchly on. Hunchly doesn't collect videos.

Hunchly also allows a user to enter "selectors," such as a name or phone number. Once these appear on a webpage, Hunchly will automatically notify a user, saving them the hassle of searching pages manually. These selectors can also be applied at a later date, so if the investigator gets a new piece of information, it's relatively easy to search their database for signs of it.

Screenshot of the Hunchly tool gathering selected terms (this investigation was just for demo purposes)

Finally, Hunchly generates reports containing all of the information collected in an investigation, as well as a user's own notes, which you can download as a Word document.

Seitz said that journalists, law enforcement, lawyers, private investigators, marketers, and others were already using Hunchly.

"Hunchly is really there to continually pick up all of that information we see with
our eyeballs so that we have it for safekeeping and analysis later," he added.

Hunchly is currently available in early-access on Windows and Mac, and costs $99 (Canadian) for a year's worth of updates and support. Seitz provided me with a Linux build for testing purposes, and I ran it in an Ubuntu virtual machine. Hunchly should be out of early release by June.

justin seitz
browser tools