Sunday, 10 December 2006

Google Alerts wishlist: choice of sources, feeds

Google Alerts sends you free email alerts periodically when your search term is found in certain content crawled by Google: webpages in Google's standard Web index, Google News, Google Groups discussions. It's a very useful service (which Google are clearly plugging along with Google News), and the alert creation process is perfect, so beautifully simple - you don't even need to have a Google Account to create an alert, though you then will be cleverly drawn into getting an account (if you don't already have one) in order to create alerts without email verification, change the timing of alerts etc.
Aside added: Google Alerts is not to be confused with who, as they say at the bottom of their pages in small print, are not affiliated with Google. Given how strongly Google feel about strictly protecting their trademark in the term "google", I wonder why they or their lawyers haven't had a gentle (or maybe not so gentle) word with GoogleAlert? Am I missing something?

In October the scope of Alerts was extended to include blogs which are crawled by Google's Blog Search. (Aside: they could do with deleting the reference to the closed-down Google Answers on their sign in page, though!)

It's helpful that you can now get alerts for blog mentions of your search terms too, but in a way I think that's made Alerts less useful, not more, because of the way you have to set up Alerts.

Checkboxes not dropdowns please?

Personally, I want to be able to target my searches for Alerts more specifically. E.g. I use Alerts for my day job, but my work is such that I positively do not want blog posts or Google group messages included in the search as they're very unlikely to be authoritative sources for the purposes of my work. But I do want to search news, websites etc.

Currently, it's all or none. Either you choose a single source only to search, like Google News, or else you have to use a "Comprehensive" option which searches across all the available Google sources (currently news, blog, web, groups). So for my work alerts, if I want alerts for both news and websites (and I do), I have to pick "Comprehensive" - which means I've no choice but to get results from blogs and Google Groups too, thus cluttering up my email with too much stuff I know I don't want but have to spend time I can't really spare ploughing through and deleting.

So, I don't want to have to pick the sources for Alerts from a dropdown list which only lets me only pick one or all available sources.

What I would really like to see is a checkbox against each separate source (plus another box for "All") so that I can pick exactly which combination of sources I want checked (e.g. just blogs or Web, or just news and Web, or just blogs and news and groups, etc).

I don't know if Google plan to implement anything like that, but if and when their possible sources for alerts continue to grow, they may have to. I sure hope they do, from a user or consumer usability point of view.

And feed me too!

Another feature I'd like to see is the ability to get my Alerts via an RSS newsfeed instead of by email, if I want to. You can get Google News search results via a feed, and Alerts are just search results via email, so why not offer the option to have Google Alerts results via either email or newsfeed as the user wishes? (I know I could use a feed merger service to combine Google News and Blog Search results feeds into a single feed. But that doesn't get me search results from the Web, or Groups. And besides, the whole point is I don't want to have to do the work, I'd like nice helpful Google to do it for me!)

Feeds have been available for some time for Google News and Blog Search results, though they still don't offer a feed for Groups search results. On the Google News pages you've probably noticed that Google now offer the ability to get your search results as News Alerts by email too, using Google Alerts of course, as well as via a feed - and similarly on Blog Search results there's an extra "Blogs Alerts" option (both under "Subscribe" in the left sidebar). There's a Groups Alert option for Google Group searches by email too. This is a good example of the very welcome increasing integration of Google services.

But for better consistency and freedom of choice I do think the options of RSS feeds or Atom feeds or email should be provided for all services (not just Google's) that offer search results or similar tracking or monitoring services. I know that email and feeds serve different functions for different people, and different people have their own preferences - but that's precisely why I think there ought to be the flexibility, to cater for different individual preferences.


Amit Agarwal said...

Improbulus - Have you tried Zaptxt ? It's let you receive feed specific alerts in real time.

Improbulus said...

Thanks Amit, I shall certainly give it a go. I see they already quote your own approving view. Recommendation enough for me!