Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Google Alerts--standing queries to monitor the world

I don't know about you, but I really don't have as much time as I'd like to scan all of the new journals, web publication sites and News feeds.  Instead, I rely on Google Alerts to keep me up-to-date and in-the-know.

Google Alerts are basically "standing queries."  You write a Google query, then decide how often you want it to run and over what body of content (news, web sites, etc.).

Since it's a regular Google query, you can use any of the normal advanced query operators.  For instance, I have an Alert that is the query [site:nytimes.com "Daniel M Russell" Google ] -- that way I can follow anytime my name is mentioned in the NYtimes.  With just a few site: limited queries, I can pretty much track just the sources I'm interested in following (and thereby avoiding all of the other Dan Russell's in the world).  Note that I use the long form of my name since I know that's the writing convention style of the NYTimes (they always use the long form of your name).  At other sites I might use a slightly different query.  

I might do an Alert query such as [site:.edu Daniel M Russell ] to track any mentions of my name on an EDU site.  This is awfully handy.  Since I give a lot of talks at universities, I can track anything published on an academic website that mentions my work (e.g., student posts after I give a talk there).  

Note you can vary the kind of content that's searched (web, news, video, blogs, discussions, books) and vary how often it's fed to you (as-it-happens, once-a-day, once-a-week).

Now, what I'm really interested in... is how YOU use Alerts.  Do you have them set to monitor some particular aspect of your work?  Personal interests?  Also, how important are the Alerts to what you do?  

I know that in some cases, military families set up Alerts to monitor any possible news items about their loved ones.  (See NPR's recent story about the Darkhorse Battalion, and their use of Alerts to watch for possible news stories about their sons and daughters in Afghanistan.)  

If you're a teacher, a library or journalist--well, ANYONE who uses Alerts--I'd love to hear your story.  

Search on!  


  1. as an SEO i used them to monitor competitors, to find new websites (for partnership proposal and link exchange or link building if they allow comments - please note that if i find a cool website i spend a lot of time thinking what kind of comment may be useful for them ... and i dont put useless keywords instead of my name in the author name field...) and most of all to understand what's cool for the alert algorythm.

    BUT: the google alerts are incredibly slow and stupid, most of the times it's just spam in my RSS reader. I was hoping that the new "sparks" inside Google Plus could have been better... but we are SO FAR from good...

  2. @Simone - Why are the Alert "slow and stupid"? It's your query they're running. Is there something else you'd like it to do instead that could improve the quality?

  3. slow: i got an update each week, most of the suggestions are more than a year old, while they could fit on a separate archive on demand, i expect those updates to be timely with the actual new articles publishing status (yes, sometimes i also get a timely response from the alerts).

    stupid: if i take 10 suggested websites, 5 of them are spam (the alert seems not really able to tell the difference between the original web and reposts from scrapers), 3 of them are old (see "slow note"), 1 is correct and useful, 1 is noise/not really related to my query.

  4. I am an administrator at a Florida charter school. I use them to keep up with charter school news in Florida as well as national headlines.

  5. Most of mind fall under under the "reputation" category. I have alerts set up for different forms of my name. I have a couple that search for use of my pictures from Flickr.

    I also have alerts that mention the name of the school where I work. I use these to inform the principal of questionable activity that she should be aware of but also inform the staff about the good things being reported.

    Finally a few of the alerts are for products I'm looking to purchase and when they go on sale.

  6. My own use of alerts pretty much falls into the "reputation" category as well - I started using it when I was job hunting, so I could see what potential employers might find when googling my name.

    I'm a librarian at a community college and when I gave a workshop on Google Scholar to the faculty recently, the Alerts feature was the show-stopper! People were excited that could automate the process of searching for new research and publications in their research areas. I've since worked one-on-one with several professors to set up personalized search alerts on Google Scholar and across other Google search products.

  7. I am a Crime Analyst - I set up alerts to let me know if someone is talking our agency, making threats in the community, if we have any VIPs in the area I should know about, if road conditions are going to be a problem, if "Occupy" themes are going to get riled up, and basically anything that might effect the safety and security of the community I serve.

  8. Alerts is a useful tool to generate news from quality sources according to personal interests: [site:nytimes.com | site:npr.org | site:bbc.co.uk sopa | pipa]

  9. I have a couple of alerts that fall under the 'reputation' heading, and several to keep an eye out for mentions of the organisation that I work for, which then feeds into an informal current awareness service for my department, and news fodder for our website.

    I also have a handful that give me a sub-set of articles from a high-volume source that relate to some of my personal and professional interests, that I can use to keep in touch with the conversation when I don't have time to read everything on the full feed.

    re simone's comments above, I do see the issue with the service not distinguishing copy articles, but at least for the institution reputation batch, find it interesting, if not always useful, to discover who's copying who, and get a fuller idea of all the places what people might encounter reference to us. The 'slow' complaint, in my experience, tends to be a 'clearing of the pipes' when new alerts are set up, and to fade away once it's been running for a few weeks. Clearly, YMMV!