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Monday, August 18, 2014

Google Alerts for Genealogists?

Let's face it. Browsing the web is a waste of time. Searching the web for specific research items is useful but may have to be done over and over again as new content is added. The idea behind aggregators and readers is to keep current with additions to specific websites, blogs and news feeds. A reader constantly watches websites you designate for updated content. As genealogists we can watch our own family's blogs, the blogs of other genealogists and other interesting content such as genealogical societies, online databases and anything else we are researching. See Wikipedia: Comparison of feed aggregators. If you want to watch a certain topic however, aggregators are often limited to watching specific URLs or website addresses.

The other side of the coin is a website alert. Warning: if you are frustrated by the amount of email you presently receive, you will be overwhelmed with an email alert system. Google Alerts is one of those programs. It is described by Google as follows:
You can get email notifications any time that Google finds new results on a topic you’re interested in. For example, you could get updates about a product you like, find out when people post content about you on the web, or keep up with news stories.
This sounds simple enough, until you choose a broad topic such a following a specific sports team. You will likely be surprised to get hundreds, perhaps thousands of notifications. Remember what happens when you search on Google for a general term such as "genealogy." You get millions of responses. Now think of those in terms of email. To assist with this process, Google suggests that you set up a separate email account just for your alerts. You don't want your regular email to get mixed in with the results of your alert. Google also suggests some specific ways to limit the responses:
  • Try to be as precise as possible. The more precise your search terms are, the more relevant your alerts will be.
  • Use quotes around a group of words if you are looking for them together. For example, ["White house"].
  • Use a minus sign (-) in front of words that you want to exclude. For example, [paris -texas].
  • Use the site: operator to limit your search to specific sites. For example, [congress site:nytimes.com].
At this point, the alerts begin looking a lot like a news aggregator. This is just one more tool to try and tame the Web.

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