Saturday, March 23, 2013

Google Alerts is Dying. Here Are Some Alternatives

No, there is no official announcement from Google yet, but brace yourself, you will hear one soon. Google Alerts is dying a slow death, for past several months, but nobody was taking notice, until now. After Google put Reader on the death row, users are sitting up looking for tale tell signs among other Google services – which one will go next? Google Alerts was quickly recognized as a likely candidate.

Google Alerts is one of those obscure little tool very few people actually use, but those who do, find it immensely useful. This web service lets users monitor the entire web for specific keywords. For instance, you can create a Google Alert for your name, your company name, your blog name or any product. When any website across the Internet mentions the keywords you are watching, an email alert is sent to you. By setting up alerts for terms that you are interested in, you are able to keep yourself on top of things that’s important to you. But lately Google Alerts is becoming unreliable.

Two feet of a dead body

I use Google Alerts to watch for new mentions of my blog name, among other stuff. I have setup Google Alerts to send me daily digest of all new blog posts and web articles that make reference to my site. For the past few months, I have noticed that alerts were getting few and far between, even though there were enough discussions around the watched terms, which can be confirmed by a simple search on Google. Sometimes the alerts are late by several days, and often incomplete.

Danny Sullivan noticed this too and wrote about the decreasing utility of Google Alerts, even before the Google Reader fiasco happened. The other day, another publication, The Financial Brand, announced matter-of-factly that Google Alerts is broken and useless.

The Financial Brand started receiving fewer and fewer Google Alerts. And when the Alerts did arrive, they contained fewer and fewer results. It’s gone from lots of Alerts, to many, to some, to a few… down to a trickle. ….. the volume of Alerts has decreased by at least 80%, dropping from 20-35 emails per day with 4-12 results each down to 4-8 emails per day with 1-3 results each. And the results are crummier than ever.

The Financial Brand questions whether this is a ploy by Google to “slowly wean users off Google Alerts by deliberately making them less relevant, less frequent and less useful” until one day they can just pull the plug entirely. I believe they have hit the nail on the head.

The Alternatives

In the era of social networking, few people are interested in what’s going on outside their closely knitted virtual societies. For those who are interested, Twitter already has @mentions and #hashtags that reliable keep tracks of all mentions about one’s name and keywords. Facebook, I’m not sure. As for the general web, nothing exist that can totally replace Google Alerts. But there is still at least one startup and one veteran that can help turn a new leaf.

Mention

Mention crawls the entire Internet looking for your keywords. It searches social networks, blogs, forums, videos, and anything else on the Web, across 42 languages. Mention offers more control over the results you want to see. For instance, you can search for all of your keywords in a phrase, or at least some of your keywords. You can also specify ignore keywords and block URLs to filter out noise. Mention itself has an anti-noise technology that gradually learns what you want to see by monitoring what you have deleted.

mentions

Alerts can be accessed on the web via the browser or via desktop applications for Mac and Windows. There are also mobile apps available for iPhone and Android devices. Other features include the ability to favorite alerts, share alerts, or you can connect your Facebook or Twitter account and react in real-time to any mention.

Mention is available for free for up to three alerts and 500 mentions per month. Pro plans start at $19.99 per month going up to $99.95.

Bing

Bing doesn’t have a Google Alert equivalent, but it does offer RSS feeds for its search results. Then today, I learnt from Martin Brinkman that you can filter Bing results by date. Putting two and two together I figured out that it’s possible to setup a decent “Bing Alerts” type of service that will send you alerts by RSS. Here is how to make it work.

Open Bing search, enter your keywords and press Enter. Then add the following parameters to the search URL based on period you want to restrict the search results to.

  • &tbs=qdr:s - results of the previous second
  • &tbs=qdr:n - results of the previous minute
  • &tbs=qdr:h - results of the previous hour
  • &tbs=qdr:d - results of the previous day
  • &tbs=qdr:w - results of the previous week
  • &tbs=qdr:m - results of the previous month
  • &tbs=qdr:y - results of the previous year

Refresh the results after applying the parameters, and then click on the RSS icon on the far left of the address bar. Here are the results for “richard feynman” limited to last one week.

bing-alerts

Bonus

Result.ly is also worth looking. I’m still evaluating this product, but at this point, it’s too early to make a comment.

Talkwalker Alerts is another service worth looking. It delivers results via email and RSS.

Photo credit: Feet of a dead body by Big Stock Photo

1 comment:

  1. Good grief!? Why would *anyone* nowadays start using any new Google tool? I mean, Google offers NO assurances that the tool -- after users invest so much time and effort into making it a critical piece of their online life -- will be around for any length of time. I'm not signing up for ANY MORE Google tools going forward. Period.

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