Someone I know described another person as listening to “all the news that fits his views.” Most of us filter our news so that we tend to hear things that fit our beliefs. The content providers out there try mightily with their targeted ads to figure out our preferences. Based on my searches, they have decided I am more likely to respond to an ad for Obama than one for Romney and when I search on an issue, the more liberal slant seems to come up more often near the top of the list of choices I’m presented with.
Google Alerts provides an opportunity to defeat one-sided analysis. If you are not familiar with Google Alerts it works like this: tell them a phrase you are interested in and they will search news, blogs, videos, discussions and books and send you the information in an email. You can choose a daily digest (my general choice) or “as it happens” or a weekly summary. You can also let them choose only the “best results” or everything. Since often my purpose is to get a wider view of things, I always make the inclusive “everything” choice.
Let’s say you are interested in anything having to do with one of my fellow bloggers, Warren Bull. Naturally you would want to bookmark his website, but for a true fan that would not be enough. You want to know about every mention of him. If you do a Google Alert on Warren Bull, you will get anything that includes the words Warren and Bull, whether or not they are capitalized. So if someone thinks the selection of the current winner of the Warren Spahn Award for baseball’s best left-handed pitcher is bullroar, that rant will show up. To eliminate that problem you put the name in quotes: “Warren Bull,” which requires Warren and Bull to be consecutive words. Still, things like an article entitled “Rodeo: Bothwell wins at Crazy Horse” will pop up because of a reference to Warren’s bull.
Sometimes those articles are very interesting and you would have never seen them without your Google Alert terms. However, if “Warren Bull” still gets you too many wrong people, you might limit Google Alert’s search by including the word author (so your search terms are [“Warren Bull” author]. Initially I chose more limiting Alert rules, but I’ve learned I often miss things I wish I’d seen—and the opportunity for serendipity has been lost.
You may wonder what terms I currently have Google Alerts set for. I’m egotistical enough to want to know if someone says something about me, but there are too many Jim Jacksons for that to do any good, so I use “James Montgomery Jackson.” I do have an alert for [“Jim Jackson” author], which occasionally relates to me but mostly allows me to see what the other authorial Jim Jacksons are doing. I also have one with my name and residence [“Jim Jackson” Amasa] that mostly comes back with bridge tournament results.
I also have a number of Alerts with the title of my books, including my published, One Trick at a Time, my novel Bad Policy that has been accepted for publication, and my work-in-progress Cabin Fever. I also have Google Alerts on my major protagonists. I get a few extraneous hits on “One Trick at a Time” that provide fodder for future stories. “Bad Policy” gets a lot of Republicans grousing about Obamacare and lots of Democrats complaining about state-level Republican efforts. Occasionally something new will cross my radar. Recently I became aware of US House Bill 1505 that would allow the Customs and Border Patrol the ability to build any kind of infrastructure they want anywhere within 100 miles of an international border (other than ocean), and would abrogate any and all environmental, wilderness, national park, etc. laws to accomplish something the Border Patrol says is not needed. That prompted me to write my senators and representative to express my concerns.
“Cabin Fever” garners the most eclectic results ranging from vacation hotspots to comments on the 2002 movie by that name, to a new album bythat name by Corb Lund, an Alberta country singer I had never heard of, but whose album sounds like a lot of fun, to vacation hotspots.
Occasionally some topic of interest will get my attention and I’ll add it to my Alerts to see what everyone is saying. Last year I was interested in “redistricting” so I could follow the political battles in the states as they Gerrymandered new voting districts.
Currently, my catch-all Alert is “financial crime.” My mystery/suspense series involves financial crimes and, while I have a great imagination, the stuff people are pulling off—well, there ought to be a book!
Google Alerts are easy to set up and easy to remove. You can get started at http://www.google.com/alerts . If you use Google Alerts, what do you use it for? If not, what tempts you?