17 November 2008

Automate Your Online Searches-Google Edition [Quick Tips]

Google now allows you to receive updates from their Google Alerts tool via RSS feed. This change updates the tool and removes one of my long-standing grudges against Google Alerts: that they cluttered my email inbox!

If you don't know what a Google Alert is, never fear. I've got a quick tutorial below which will get you up to speed. Give Google Alerts a shot and rest easier at night knowing that the power of technology is scouring the web for you (even while you sleep!) and alerting you to the newest information being added to the web about your research subjects.

What Google Alerts Are

As I rhapsodize above, Google Alerts are automated searches that you can setup through your Google Account. Much like running a regular Google search, these alerts search the web for sites matching your search terms. The beauty of Google Alerts is that the searches managed through Google Alerts run continuously, and you receive updated search results from your alerts whenever new content matching your terms is indexed by Google! How very handy.

Let's set up an alert, and you'll see better what I mean. (Note that you have to have a Google Account to setup and manage alerts. If you don't have one, you can set one up here. You will also need to use or be using Google Reader or another RSS feed reader in order to make use of the RSS feed.)

Setting up Google Alerts

Once you have signed into your Google Account, go to the Google Alerts page to set up your alert.

Once there, enter your search term in the box on the right. (Note that the intial alert set-up form has not been altered to allow you to select an RSS feed; we'll do that later).

I am entering the name of an ancestor that I am researching. Since this is an unusual name, I won't be adding any qualifiers to the search (like "+Charleston" or "+steamboat") to refine it as I would with a more common name:

Ordinarily, if you set up a standard emailed Google Alert, you can select the frequency with which you receive results. However, once you change to an RSS feed, your frequency request will automatically be reset to "as-it-happens".

Once you have hit "Create Alert" you will be taken to this page, where you will see the alerts you have already setup (if any). Click on the "edit" link to the right of the alert you want to change into an RSS feed:

The alert will change to edit mode. Select "feed" from the drop-down menu, as shown, then click "Save":

The alert now shows up as an RSS feed, and can be viewed in Google Reader:

If you don't use Google Reader, you can click on the Feed chicklet to get the alert feed's URL for use in another reader.

Here's a view of my new Google Alert RSS feed in Google Reader:

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