Monday, January 29, 2007

Google Alerts

One of the many challenges facing writers using the web is how to keep track of all the changes going on out there. RSS and blogs are a very excellent way of noting new material and changes in the web. However, not every site has a feed yet and there are other ways to see relevent new stuff. For instance, you can always get the most popular search engine on the planet to send you an e-mail with a link when it notices something that you say you are interested in.

The Google alerts service comes free (for the moment) with a google account. It is very easy to set up (you simply provide it with a series of search terms like a google search). Like many others, I am rather a fan of googling myself so I gave the alerts service 'Gavin Stewart' as my search term. The initial e-mail I got back was full of an assortment of strange and irrelevant stuff. However, since then things have settle down to a few e-mails a month of highly focussed stuff. Perhaps the only short coming to this service is what one might call 'spider-lag'; i.e. it takes a while for a search engine to get around to the interesting page. Back in November
2006 I gave a research talk and placed an image of the talk on flickr. The alerts service sent me an e-mail for this change yesterday. Arguably, I did not need to know that this change had occurred ( because I made this change myself). However, it rather demonstrates how searches are not always complete ( as they might not contain the latest additions to the www). Still, I am sure that google will sharpen up this performance otherwise technorati will steal their thunder!



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