Five Creative Uses for Google Alerts and More

Below is article from Lifehacker about using Google alerts. I’m an avid user and have over 50 alerts setup ranging from:  my company’s competition,  the non-profit board I’m involved in, family members, vendors, industry related topics. If you’re interested in my list of alerts, please leave me a comment.

Five Creative Uses for Google Alerts Google Alerts

Google Alerts is one of Google’s hidden gems. It’s a really powerful tool to keep track of trends, interesting topics, or anything really new that appears on the web. If you’re not using it already, here are a few creative ways to get started with it.

Google Alerts may not be one of Google’s most popular services, but it’s definitely one of the most useful. When the service gave us a scare earlier this month , many worried it was on the chopping block next to Google Reader. I put out the call on Twitter to see if anyone actually used it, and was surprised by some of the ways many of you put it to good use. Alerts is back now and working better than ever, so Google was probably just monkeying around under the hood. If you’re not using it though, now is a great time to start. Here are some clever ways to put it to work.

Perform Automated Vanity Searches and Find Out Who’s Talking About You 

One of the best uses for Google Alerts is to keep track of how often people are talking about you on the web and what they’re saying. One common refrain I heard when I talked to people about how they used Google Alerts was that they used them to find out what people were saying about the company they worked for, their non-profit, their startup, or about them personally (or their blog). One startup founder I spoke to even said it’s a great way to get a service that PR companies charge for entirely for free .

Whether you’re trying to find out whether people are gossiping about you personally or you want to know what people are saying about your company, Google Alerts makes performing automatic vanity searches a snap. All you have to do is type in your name or your company’s name in the search query field. Tell Alerts whether you want all results or just the high quality ones, when you want them delivered, and how you want them sent to you (you can have them sent via email or have Alerts generate an RSS feed for you to subscribe to. If you’re really obsessive, you have all results delivered to you as they happen, but depending on your popularity, you may want some mail filters set up in advance.

Stay Up to Date On News from Far Away 

If you’re an expat living far from home, or just someone who’s moved away from their hometown but still wants to know what’s going on in your old neighborhood, Google Alerts can help you with that too. Just modify the search terms for the name of your hometown, your home country, or if you want really specific results, your zip code. Like any Google search, you can add as many search terms as you like to narrow the results, and put long names in quotes to get exact matches.

One of my friends living in New York uses Alerts to stay on top of the news where he grew up (and where his family still lives) so he can get crime alerts for his parents’ neighborhood, and he finds out whenever someone he went to school with makes the news—for good or ill—before it’s plastered all over Facebook.

Follow a Trending Story, or Get a Snapshot of Events On Your Own Time 

Right now, many of us are absorbed with the investigation into the bombings in Boston. Others of us are following the ongoing conflict in Syria. However, watching the news all day or being inundated with a never-ending stream of reports—some of them inaccurate and bound for retraction—is just too much to deal with. Google Alerts lets you take control of the news stream and get up to speed on a specific topic when you’re ready. Tweak the search terms for the issue you’re following, and change the “How Often” to once a day for a simple digest. Once a week may be too much for a story that’s actively developing, but once a day is fine for those of us who don’t have the time to stay glued to the latest news reports.

Prefer to drink from the fire hose? “As-It-Happens” is always an option, and Google Alerts will feed you new news stories and search results of all types as soon as they index them. It’s not as fast as social media like Twitter or Facebook, but it’s pretty quick. To stick to reports from news agencies, make sure to change the “Result Type” from “Everything” to “News” or “Blogs.” You may also want to change “How Many” to “Only the Best Results” to weed out the cruft. One friend on Twitter noted that he uses Google Alerts to deliver a kind of “morning snapshot” of events that occured overnight , which I thought was pretty creative.

If your news-gathering has less to do with current events and has more to do with entertainment, tech news, or you have a specific public figure, politician, actor, or personality you want to follow (without being creepy), Google Alerts is perfect for that as well. You can even set up a Google Alert for new videos released by your favorite comedian or YouTube channel, get them delivered via RSS, and watch them as they come out without having to check their channel manually. Of course, you can also use it to harvest as much information as possible about your favorite celebrity’s public statements and appearances, but come on, don’t make it weird.

Search for Coupon Codes, Discounts, and Promotions 

Google Alerts is great for information gathering, but it’s also a great bargain hunting tool. You can set an alert for coupon codes or discounts to your favorite retailer, and then sit back and let the bargains come to you. Not all of them will be of particularly high quality and you’ll still have to sift through the results to find something useful. Even so, you’ll hear about new coupon codes as soon as they hit the web, and you’ll get first dibs on using them.

This is especially useful if you’re trying to grab a discount code that’s only valid for a few hundred uses, or if you want a 10% off code for your favorite web hosting company or domain registrar . Just set the search term for the type of discount you want (taking care not to be too specific), set the result quality as broad as possible, and let Google do the work for you.

Go Job Hunting 

If you’re unemployed or just looking for a better gig, you can use all the help you can get. Google Alerts lets you search for job openings and have results delivered right to your inbox so you can jump on them and apply immediately. Sure, you can scour job boards, but the benefit of using Google Alerts is that you can target your alerts specifically to the companies you’re interested in working for. You can even tailor them directly to the types of jobs you’re looking for—and since every job site and public company website is indexed by Google, you’ll probably be the first person to hear that the listing has been posted.

There’s a great guide to doing this over at The Undercover Recruiter if you’re thinking about giving it a try. After all, your job search will see more success if you target specific positions and specific companies with targeted resumes and cover letters that are relevant to the opportunity you want. Google Alerts lets you stalk your future gig with minimal effort, then strike first when the time is right.


In any case, Google Alerts is probably one of Google’s most under-utilized tools, but it’s also one of the most powerful. There are alternatives and competitors you can use in lieu of (or in addition to) Google Alerts, like Talkwalker Alerts (which earned high praise from Search Engine Land ) and Mention . If you can think of a useful search that you perform on a semi-regular basis, Google Alerts can automate it for you.

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Win Customer Loyalty By Supporting Your Community

Infographic on how Social Media are being used...
Image via Wikipedia

Below is an article from Open Forum. Are you using social media to support your community?

Win Customer Loyalty By Supporting Your Community

via OPEN Forum Articles by ShelIsrael on5/3/11

From ShelIsrael:

A few weeks ago I wrote about United Linen, a professional laundry service. Looking back, I think there are some valuable lessons small businesses should learn from they way United embraces and supports their community.

United shows a commitment to its physical community in various ways. For example, they began posting hometown team sports scores through their social media channels, and more recently, they started promoting the local symphony orchestra. During winter, United gets road conditions from their truck drivers and reports back to residents.

In short, United uses social media to report on and champion their local community. They’ve chosen a wise and valuable strategy—one that you might consider taking with your business.

Small business has clearly embraced social media. We see all sorts of cases of how little guys in corner stores or home offices have defied geographic boundaries by going global. But most small business is not going to go global. They depend upon people who live within a few miles of their store or office.

The question becomes: what should you talk about? Because let’s face it, there’s only so much you can say about your dry cleaning service or your homemade pie.

However, your customers and you probably share many topics of interest. Every town, city or neighborhood has all sorts of local events, issues, problems or reasons to celebrate. Your neighbors and customers talk about them over the counter in your shop, in coffee shops, dog parks or over backyard fences.

These issues are what make your community special—they are the community passion points. A century ago, most communities created town commons, where people gathered to discuss, debate and occasionally brawl over local issues.

People like to do business with people who share their interests. They would rather have an easy conversation then get bombarded with marketing offers and a few very large companies have figured this all out.

Dell Computer, for example, has 8000 employees who use social media as part of their jobs. They are discouraged from using the conversational tools to be overly promotional, and instead are encouraged to mix in mentions of their hobbies and personal interests.

“We discourage shilling,” Richard Binhammer, a senior member to the Dell social media team, told me.

Binhammer’s approach make sense. A smart sales person almost never starts a customer conversation with, “Hey, are you going to buy something? They are more likely to discuss weather and ease in to any possible transactions.”

In social media, you will almost always do better by conversing than by aggressive selling, and you will probably sell more goods and services if your team talks with people about what interests them rather than what you want to sell.

There are local passion spots wherever you do business. And the ability of your hometown to have a public, accessible venue for discussion has been in atrophy in recent years.

Local newspapers and broadcast stations have been on the wane. Those that have survived have very often cut staff and local coverage. The result has been that many communities suffer a local information void waiting to be filled.

Thanks to social media, local merchant or professional can fill this void in local community information and promotion at low cost and with a little investment of time. The result may have more lasting value to your business position than any e-coupon. The result may also increase the number of people who use e-coupons when you post them as well.

You have the opportunity to provide your community with an online commons—a venue where local news is shared and issues can be discussed or debated.

Here are four ways to do it:

1. Be the local media company

Online journalist Tom Foremski has been talking a lot about every company becoming a media company. But his examples are usually about huge enterprises such as Dell Computer, Cisco, Ford Motors, etc.

Why can’t a small business do this for its hometown? Your customers are already telling you what they care about—why not report on what their local passion points are? Your loyalty to your community will spawn their loyalty to you.

2. Use video and pictures

Your community is filled with wonderful and provocative visuals and sounds. Take pictures at local events. Post them (note: if kids are involved get permission).

3.  Listen and report

Use basic tools such as Google Blog Alerts to monitor topics that interest your community. Use Twitter and Facebook to be the first to report on them. If it is a complex subject, blog on it—or ask someone in your community to do a guest blog on your site.

4.  Be a polster

When issues arise in your community, poll your audience. Ask for a yes or no response, but also host a venue for people who want to leave longer comments. I constantly ask questions on Twitter and Facebook, but I also set up a space for blog comments, where people can post long comments and perhaps debate each other’s ideas.

By becoming a community booster, you build loyalty and establish thought leadership. This can be devastating to a competitor.

I call the strategy ‘Lethal Generosity.’ Here’s how it works:

Start a campaign for safe streets, sending the local team to a post-season tournament or whatever is a passion point you share with your neighbors.

Next, invite your competitors to join the campaign to match—or exceed—any financial contributions you make. Do it online or in public.

What can your competitor do? There’s only two options:

Ignore you. But then it appears they don’t care about safe streets or the local team.

Match or exceed your donation. In either case, they are following your lead. You will get some of the credit for your competitor’s generosity.

And, in either case, you win.

Try it. I bet it will increase customer loyalty, bring in new business, devastate your competition and make you feel better about yourself.

Why you should come up with at least 1 bad idea today

Below is a blog post from Daniel Pink

Why you should come up with at least 1 bad idea today

Many of us know that one secret to generating good ideas is producing bad ideas.  But if you look on your bookshelf or visit the best creativity and productivity blogs – or even ask Mr. Google “how to come up with bad ideas” —  you won’t find much guidance.

Thank goodness, then, for the brilliant and irrepressible Scott Adams. In a recent Wall Street Journal essay, the Dilbert creator borrowed from his experience as a television writer to suggest one of the best creativity exercises I’ve encountered.

Here’s his explanation:

I spent some time working in the television industry, and I learned a technique that writers use. It’s called “the bad version.” When you feel that a plot solution exists, but you can’t yet imagine it, you describe instead a bad version that has no purpose other than stimulating the other writers to imagine a better version.

For example, if your character is stuck on an island, the bad version of his escape might involve monkeys crafting a helicopter out of palm fronds and coconuts. That story idea is obviously bad, but it might stimulate you to think in terms of other engineering solutions, or other monkey-related solutions. The first step in thinking of an idea that will work is to stop fixating on ideas that won’t. The bad version of an idea moves your mind to a new vantage point.

In the piece, Adams uses the bad version process to suggest some provocative (and hilarious) ideas for reducing the US federal budget deficit. But the broader technique can apply to just about any creative stumbling block.

So give it a try. I think you’ll find that it’s not, er, a bad idea.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2010. That’s about 5 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 66 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 113 posts. There were 37 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 8mb. That’s about 3 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 25th with 87 views. The most popular post that day was Note-Taking Tools.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were didigetthingsdone.com, Google Reader, linkedin.com, twitter.com, and mail.live.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for leading indicator of remodeling activity, lumbertribe, checklist manifesto, batchgeo, and customer journey.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Note-Taking Tools July 2010
4 comments

2

Checklist Manifesto February 2010
2 comments

3

Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA) May 2010
1 comment

4

How to Set Up a Sales Tracking Process April 2010
1 comment

5

BatchGeo: Spreadsheet to Google Map May 2010
1 comment

Note-Taking Tools

I found this blog post (Methods of Work) very helpful. I’m interested in what you use for note-taking. Please see the poll question below.

I reposted the blog and highlighted what I use everyday.

Methods of Work: It Didn’t Happen If You Didn’t Write It Down

It may be an iffy plot device from a Tom Clancy thriller but it can be a valuable approach: if you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen.

That applies along multiple axes. If you think of a good idea and don’t record it somewhere, you’ll forget it. Inevitably. If you need something done by a certain time and don’t record it somewhere, you’ll miss it. If you learn something while roaming through code, or exploring a new tool, write your experiences down. You’ll thank yourself later.

But How?
There are lots of ways to do this; I’m going to go through some I have tried. One prominent area I am going to ignore is purely commercial tools; I haven’t had the need, and since I spend most of my time in Linux, my options are limited anyway. Folks I know who are serious about GTD really like Microsoft OneNote; I have friends who rave about it. Don’t ignore it if you are a Windows person and can justify the cost (under $100).

The Early Years – Emacs
For a looong time, I had a file called ‘notes.txt’ open in an Emacs window. When something needed recording, I jotted it down in simple outline format, using dashes and asterisks. When a note became old and not immediately relevant, or was finished, I just moved it to the bottom. Primitive indeed. But I could get Emacs on every computer I had, text files are easy to mail around, so it worked for me. But having everything in one file made for a big jumble.

Mind-Mapping: Great for Actual Note Taking
My favorite live note-taking application for complicated subjects remains FreeMind (or XMind). A nifty mind-mapping application which is freely available, works on any platform (courtesy of Java), is fast, scales to complex mind maps, and full of export options. I really like the export to Flash; and animated, interactive Flash representation of a map. Very nice indeed. It is really good in meetings where you can just grab concepts and polish the organization of the map later. But it isn’t really a general solution. I find the lovely expressiveness of mind-mapping leads me to over-produce content, and I get too caught up in presentation if I am not careful.

Evernote – Lots of Virtue, Lots of Vice
For a while I used Evernote as my main note taking app, but sadly it isn’t great at this. It is cross-platform, by virtue of being a web app, and it has never lost a jot of content. But sometimes I don’t have a network connection. At which point, fail. Evernote also has some weird design decisions. For example, when you click on a note, it doesn’t immediately open for editing; I can’t think of a single time where that was useful. You have to click an extra button to edit it. Bizarre. Plus it doesn’t do simple asterisk to outline translation on the fly, which, dang it, it should. Itought to have an outline mode, period.

There are advantageous to having the data in the cloud; it works on a variety of platforms, and has a pretty nice iPhone app. But beware, if you add rich-text formatting to your notes via the desktop web interface, you will not be able to do so with the iPhone app. Apparently, the Evernote folks think the iPhone is unable to handle rich text; Steve Jobs would be amazed. What will they say regarding the iPad?

Evernote has enough quirks that I don’t use it for everyday notes, though I do use it for longer term stuff.

Google Docs, Zoho, etc.
You might think Google Docs and the Zoho suite would be contenders, but neither work without a network, and both are fairly heavy as webapps go. Now, I use Google Docs for other things, especially when I need to edit a doc with several other people. But Google Docs has privacy issues, and there are anecdotal tales of lost and censored documents all over the web. Which would be only somewhat worrisome, except that Google-as-service is marred by the lack of a phone support option. Pity the Nexus One customer with a problem. With no way to get someone on the phone when something is wrong, I am loath to trust more of my data to Google (GMail is enough of the kool-aid, thank you).

Zoho actually has a dedicated note-taking component, but it also seems too heavy for simple text notes. Somehow, the presentation just doesn’t gel for me. It might reward a larger investment of my time. I have no time at the moment however.

Stupid Simple Text Files — Still a Good Way To Go
So for the last several years, I’ve taken advantage of a feature common in text editors these days — session management. Under Windows (when I am forced to use it) I use Notepad++, under Linux, I use Kate. Both of them let me designate Sessions, collections of files to manage en masse. Under Linux, I have my default Kate session open, iconified, to the system tray on startup. Under Windows I just have a shorcut to do it on-demand. I use Windows less so I have worried about it less. This allows me to have multiple files, each to cover a broad area. Dead simple organization.

A couple micro-format conventions (dashes for titles, asterisks and indentation for outlining) take care of formatting. This is the polar opposite of the expressiveness of FreeMind, but I find it helps me concentrate on the content not the formatting. Plus, text files are the lowest common denominator of storage; easy to backup (Paste them into Evernote occasionally!), easy to mail, easy to search, amenable to source control checkin.

Let’s Note Forget: Pencil and Paper
Yep, for lots of things, you can’t beat pencil and paper. I carry a Moleskine clone in my laptop bag; I’m on my forth or fifth in four years. For notes where diagrams are important, can’t beat it. Laying UI components? Get your pad. For lots of stuff, you can’t beat paper.

The downside is, you can’t go back and reorganize easily. Sometimes notes on paper feel like they are being chiseled into stone compared to working with an electronic note.

But in some jobs, keeping a log is a must for professional reasons, as patent trails an such. Hard to argue against a physical notebook.

Right up until the point where you lose the notebook itself. Ouch.

Fun with Wiki’s
Wiki’s, like mind maps, can be fabulously expressive. We have one at the office, and while sometimes it resembles a disorganized dumping ground, searc makes it pretty useful, and most of my technical musings end up there.

TiddliWiki is a neat idea I used for a while. It is a complete personal wiki completely contained in a single HTML file. There are lots of things to tweak, lots of templates and flavors around to suit various tastes. But … I mostly hate wiki formatting. The disconnect between the editing representation and the display representation is too large for me. YMMV.

Buy Why? Why Write it Down?
Why do this? Really, at this point, recording things is part of how I frame the design and understand the problem. It helps me break things down, and build up solutions. It enables me to identify what the hard parts will be, and what is low-hanging fruit.

It never fails to amaze me how much I learn by doodling notes about a problem, walking away for a couple days, emphatically not thinking about it, then coming back to it. The back of my brain apparently isreally adept at making progress on a problem when I seed it and leave it alone. Having the original notes written down when I come back is key to making sure you don’t forget a bunch of details.

Another benefit is in the trail you leave behind. It can be fulfilling or depressing, depending, to look back and see what you got done and what you didn’t. It is much easier to identify that I am in a trough, development-wise, when I can concretely see that my velocity is down. Conversely, it is cool when you are just generating good code at a fair clip to look back a mountain of identified and disposed of tasks.

So take notes. Jot stuff down. Use any method that suits you, but your great thoughts never really happened if you didn’t write them down.

BatchGeo: Spreadsheet to Google Map

If you have a spreadsheet with contacts or housing starts that you would like to put on a map, BatchGeo is a smart spreadsheet-to Google-Map conversion tool.

BatchGeo makes the task of mapping over hundreds of address to a Google map easy. Simply paste a table or spreadsheet into the webapp and it does the rest, including validating columns and addresses. The auto-generated map can be saved for later use.

BatchGeo can be used for tracking housing starts, deliveries for the week or month, or as a store locator. You can use satellite photos with Google Maps, or you can create your own Google Earth 3D viewing data.

I just started using BatchGeo. I would like your feedback on the product or other applications BatchGeo may be used for.

How to Set up Google Alerts

There’s an easy way to be notified anytime somebody writes about you or your business on the web. Set up a Google Alert and you will receive an email whenever your name turns up. While you’re at it, set up a Google Alert for keywords such as your competitors’ names, trends you’re interested in, and your web address. Adding all these things together, you can get a full digest of what’s going on in your world without having to visit separate websites and wade through a lot of extraneous content.

How to set up a Google Alert:

  1. Go to http://google.com/alerts
  2. Fill in the information. In the sample box below, you set up an alert for any term such as competitors, your business, or any other term.
  3. Selecting comprehensive will monitor all blogs, groups, news, video, and web. Then decide how often you want to be notified and how many results you want in each email.
  4. Then enter your email.
Create a Google Alert
Enter the topic you wish to monitor.
Search terms:
Type: News Blogs Web Comprehensive Video Groups
How often: as-it-happens once a day once a week
Email length: up to 20 results up to 50 results
Your email:
Google will not sell or share your email address.

Google Alerts FAQ/Help